In 1979, at the time of the Islamic revolution and the hostage crisis, the United States imposed broad economic sanctions against Iran. Since then, Washington has imposed various additional sanctions against Tehran, accusing the Iranian government of developing nuclear weapons and sponsoring or funding terrorism abroad. The sanctions block US-based oil companies from operating in Iran, giving the US a strong incentive to generalize the sanctions and block US firms' foreign competitors from operating there as well.
In February 2003, Iran revealed its uranium enrichment program at Natanz, claiming it was using the technology for peaceful purposes and inviting the UN nuclear monitoring body, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to visit. The US, however, alleged that the program is part of a drive to develop nuclear weapons. Washington sought to refer the Iranian case to the Security Council. But in November 2004, Tehran signed a temporary agreement with Germany, France and Britain to cease uranium enrichment and the IAEA issued Iran a clean bill of health, effectively avoiding Security Council intervention. However, the IAEA said it could not confirm that Iran is not pursuing undeclared nuclear activities, and some observers were quick to note that Iran broke a similar agreement with the Europeans in 2003. Even if Iran's case comes before the Security Council, China's energy interests in Iran coupled with its veto power would probably stand in the way of sanctions.
See also our page on US Military Expansion and Intervention in Iran
Iran Again Challenges the Security Council (October 28, 2005)According to the Telegraph, the Security Council has failed to take proper action concerning Iran’s nuclear ambitions, especially since Tehran has taken an indifferent attitude to repeated resolutions by the International Atomic Energy Agency. If the Security Council does not sanction Iran following President Ahmadinejad’s call that Israel should be "wiped off the map," the Security Council “does not deserve its name,” argues this article.
Are We Going to War with Iran? (October 18, 2005)Is the US threat to go to war with Iran real or is it just a scare tactic to get Iran to halt its nuclear program? Dan Plesch writes in the Guardian that Washington regards Iran as enough of a critical threat to warrant an attack. Indeed, US intelligence considers that while Iran is years from a nuclear weapons capability, “the technological point of no return is now imminent.” US Ambassador John Bolton warned that if the Security Council failed to deal with Iran’s alleged breach of its commitments on nuclear proliferation, “the US would solve the problem on its own.”
Why Iran Isn't a Global Threat (September 29, 2005)Iran’s failure to comply with its International Atomic Energy Agency commitments on nuclear proliferation does not indicate a more sinister motive to subvert its neighbors and export its Islamic revolution, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The US and European Union notion that Iran's foreign policy is entering a new radical phase misreads modern Iranian politics and national interest. The days when Iran sought to undermine established authority in the name of Islamic salvation are over.
Government Reacts to IAEA Nuclear Resolution (September 26, 2005)Expressions of outrage came from Tehran officials following the adoption of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) resolution against Iran’s nuclear program. Calling the resolution “illegal, unfair and completely unacceptable,” the legislature retaliated by preparing a bill that would suspend the implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) within a week of a Security Council referral. (RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty)
IAEA Adopts Resolution on Iran's Nuclear Activities (September 26, 2005)The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) adopted a resolution that calls on Iran to halt its nuclear program within two months and cooperate fully with UN inspectors. The resolution, tabled by Britain, France and Germany (the EU-3), was approved by a vote of 22 in favor, 1 against (Venezuela), and 12 abstentions. The Islamic Republic News published the integral text of the resolution.
Iran: Drive to UN Security Council Encounters Obstacles (September 22, 2005)At a meeting of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Britain, France and Germany (the EU-3) withdrew their proposal, which had called for Iran to be referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions. Instead, they presented a softer version of their proposal, accusing Iran of “various failures and breaches” of its obligations to the IAEA. The EU-3 took this decision after intense opposition from veto-wielding Russia and China, who are eager to maintain or build energy ties with Iran. (RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty)
Iran in Talks with Nuclear Watchdog (August 26, 2005)Iran resumed uranium enrichment at one of its plants despite the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) resolution calling on the country to halt its uranium conversion work. Then the European Union threatened at an IAEA meeting to refer Iran to the UN Security Council . Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, met the IAEA’s chief Mohamed ElBaradei in Vienna in an attempt to forestall the EU’s efforts. (Reuters)
No Proof Found of Iran Arms Program (August 23, 2005)An international scientific panel put together by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has concluded that bomb-grade uranium found in Iran matches that of contaminated equipment from Pakistan. The IAEA data eliminates the “smoking gun” theory that Iran is trying to gain nuclear weapons capabilities. Though the panel included US government experts, the Bush administration still denies the conclusion and instead continues to push for international pressure and UN sanctions against Iran. (Washington Post)
Miscues Set Up Nuclear Crisis (August 10, 2005)The Asia Times warns of an international crisis, as Iran resumes its nuclear program. If the US and its European allies propose UN sanctions against Teheran, the Security Council may face a deadlock: Russia or China may impose their veto and the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have to establish that Iran is in “material breach” of its obligations toward the non-proliferation regime.
Iran to Re-Start Uranium Conversion (July 31, 2005)Iran has told the International Atomic Energy Agency that it will begin the preliminary stage of uranium enrichment, but the letter to the UN agency “kept open the possibility of compromise,” reports the Financial Times. Iran and the European Union have been engaged in the latest round of talks over Iranian nuclear developments, but “the situation is complicated” by Iran’s new conservative president and this latest “impasse.” The EU has already said that it would support the US push for UN sanctions against Iran if talks fail.
Iran Ready to Compromise in European Talks (May 25, 2005) EU foreign ministers worked to persuade Tehran to suspend its uranium enrichment program, amid continued pressure from the US to impose UN economic sanctions on Iran. The EU previously sought to avoid sanctions but, if the talks fail, EU members will probably move “towards the US position” to bring Iran before the Security Council. However, the Associated Press questions the effectiveness of strong sanctions, warning that they would likely cause oil prices to rise.
Iran Plans Defense of Nuclear Program (May 2, 2005) As representatives from 180 nations gather at the UN to review the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), Iran prepares to defend its nuclear weapons program and will insist on the same rights as those given to all other NPT members. Under the treaty, members gain access to nuclear technology in return for a pledge to abandon nuclear arms. But the right to leave the NPT at any time has given rise to fears over Iran and North Korea’s nuclear program. US concern over both countries’ uranium enrichment programs and attempts to bring the matter before the Security Council will likely dominate the conference. (Washington Post)
Sleepwalking to Disaster in Iran (March 30, 2005)Former UN Chief Weapons Inspector in Iraq Scott Ritter warns of a US attack against Iran in June 2005 at the earliest when, according to the Pentagon, the country will have completed its uranium enrichment program. Senior Israeli officials have said they will not tolerate nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran, and expect the US to take the matter to the UN. Israel and the US want UN sanctions, which would force an Iranian regime change and abandonment of its nuclear weapons program. But a consensus on sanctions in the Security Council seems unlikely as veto-holding Russia supports and supplies Iran’s uranium enrichment program. (AlJazeera)
Washington Urges Nuclear Watchdog to Refer Iran to Security Council (March 3, 2005)Washington has urged the International Atomic Agency (IAEA) to bring Iran before the Security Council and impose sanctions on Tehran, which the US argues is "in clear violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty." The calls echo previous US demands that Iraq comply with weapons inspections, and foreshadow a repeat of the 2003 Iraq invasion. Iranian officials suspect the US wants to put the matter on the Security Council agenda so that the White House can exercise its authority and influence in the Council, rather than address the matter from its isolated position in the IAEA. (Daily Star-Lebanon)
IAEA Head Disputes Claims on Iran Arms (February 16, 2005) International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Mohamed ElBaradei has said there is no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear arms and condemned Washington's inconsistent policies with respect to Iran and North Korea. In his latest report ElBaradei finds a greater Iranian willingness to cooperate with inspections, but White House officials maintain ElBaradei favors blocking US policies over halting Iran's nuclear weapon's program. (Washington Post)
Rice Tells Iran to Take Deal or Face UN Council (February 9, 2005) US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has warned Tehran that it must halt its nuclear weapons program and cooperate with European nations to resolve the nuclear issue. Rice said the Iranians "will have to live up to their international obligations" if they want to avoid Security Council referral and possible sanctions. France, Germany and Britain are reluctant to bring the matter before the Council, emphasizing they are "committed to letting the diplomacy run its course." (Associated Press)
Besieged Chief of Atomic Agency Carries On (February 1, 2005)In his speech at the World Economic Forum, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohammed ElBaradei announced a proposal for a five-year moratorium on building uranium-enrichment facilities to prevent Iran and other countries from developing nuclear weapons. ElBaradei called for Security Council involvement during the five-year ban, which he sees as an opportunity for the world to review the laws governing the transfer of nuclear technology and material. Despite similarities with US President George Bush's anti-proliferation initiative, the White House has labeled ElBaradei "soft on so-called rogue countries" and has lobbied other IAEA members to deny him a third term. (New York Times)
Iran's Choice (January 28, 2005)The Wall Street Journal has "substantial reservations and doubts about Iran's good faith" with respect to the country's pledge to cease its uranium enrichment program. This article argues that Iran avoided Security Council referral by "negotiating a departure from the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) normal safeguards standards" and warns that this may set a precedent for further IAEA inspections. Conservative criticism aimed at the IAEA echoes US justification to invade Iraq and could serve as propaganda to legitimize US action against Iran.
Cheney Warns of Iran as A Nuclear Threat (January 21, 2005)Denying Seymour Hersh’s article on covert US military operations in Iran, Vice President Dick Cheney said the Bush administration plans to “pursue diplomacy first” and propose UN Security Council sanctions if diplomacy fails. But Cheney warned that “all options are on the table,” and that Israel “might well decide to act first and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess.” (Washington Post)
Halliburton Unit Prepares for Iran Work (January 10, 2005)Oil services company Halliburton has managed to circumvent US sanctions on Iran and has won a major contract in one of the world's largest natural gas fields, "offering its services via [subcontractor] Oriental Kish." Under federal law, US companies are prohibited from doing business with the "axis of evil," but can maneuver their way around trade laws by working with "a foreign entity." The deal will however diminish US credibility when pressing for UN sanctions on Iran. (Houston Chronicle)
How to Deal With Tehran (December 14, 2004)This article, written by former Canadian and European Foreign Ministers and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, stresses the need for transatlantic cooperation in dealing with a nuclear Iran. The authors urge the US to support diplomatic European efforts and the EU to ready itself for stronger actions, including Security Council intervention, should diplomacy fail. They advocate a solution that allows Iran to pursue a civilian nuclear program as long as the international community gets "the insurance it needs." (Toronto Star)
Iran and Europeans Open a New Round of Negotiations (December 14, 2004)Iran, Britain, France and Germany have begun negotiations for a long-term agreement on nuclear, economic and security cooperation. Talks will follow "two tracks, one to make the freeze permanent, another to explore concrete ways to reward Iran if it does so." The US could block any agreement Tehran may reach with the Europeans because it holds the power to block incentives Europe hopes to offer. (New York Times)
There Are Worse Things Than a Nuclear Iran (December 2, 2004)This International Herald Tribune article challenges the US and EU assumption that they cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran, saying "if the price for a democratic Iran is Tehran's being allowed to develop limited nuclear capabilities, then so be it." The author argues against military action, citing the proven inefficiency of a top-down approach to democracy, and claiming that military strikes would only enrage Islamists and isolate reformists. He also rules out the possibility of sanctions, saying that the world economy needs Iran's oil, and, as with military action, veto-wielding Security Council members would be unlikely to authorize them.
Will Nuclear Bargain with Iran Work? (November 30, 2004)The International Atomic Energy Agency passed a resolution welcoming Iran's agreement with Britain, France, and Germany to suspend its uranium enrichment activities. The resolution's language was weaker than Washington would have liked, and the US remains skeptical that the deal will hold. The situation remains tenuous and some see it as a challenge between European multilateralism and diplomacy, and more "muscular" and "aggressive" US tactics. Observers say diplomacy will only succeed with the US on board. (Christian Science Monitor)
Iran Freezes Uranium Activities (November 23, 2004)Iran narrowly met the deadline to freeze uranium enrichment activities as agreed in a deal with the EU. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Tehran has stopped uranium activities but asserted that the government had rushed to process uranium concentrate before the deadline. The EU will draft a resolution at the IAEA meeting in Vienna stipulating a course of action should Iran breach the terms of the agreement. The US and UK are pushing for a harder line which would automatically refer the issue to the Security Council while Germany advocates a "milder tone." (Guardian)
UN Sees No New Nuclear Signs in Iran (November 16, 2004)The International Atomic Energy Agency says inspectors have found no new evidence of nuclear activities or an atomic weapons program in Iran, though they remain alert and cannot conclude that Iran does not have covert activities. The report, coupled with Iran's agreement with European negotiators to suspend uranium enrichment, will likely stave off Security Council action. Washington is still pushing to refer Iran to the Council. (Los Angeles Times)
Beijing Looking To Tehran to Fuel Its Booming Economy (November 10, 2004)China's "booming" economy means greater energy needs, and oil imports have doubled in the past five years. Beijing seeks energy agreements with Tehran, in part to "ease its dependence on relatively pro-American governments" in the Middle East. Iran needs both foreign investment and a political ally in its battle with Washington over nuclear development. China is a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, and after signing oil and gas agreements with Tehran, has spoken against bringing Iran to the Security Council over its uranium enrichment program. (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)
Tehran Agrees to Nuclear Freeze (November 8, 2004)Tehran pledged to halt its uranium enrichment program in talks with the UK, France and Germany until Iran and the EU strike a "final bargain." The tentative agreement could stop the International Atomic Energy Agency from bringing the issue before the Security Council, but observers warn talks could fall apart. China, a veto-wielding member of the Council with oil and gas interests in Iran, has assured Tehran that it will block any move to refer Iran's case to the Security Council. (Guardian)
Iran ‘Prepared’ for UN Security Council Referral (October 24, 2004)Germany, France and Britain offered Iran a package including "supply and removal after use of enriched uranium, the transfer of nuclear technology… and a trade agreement" in an attempt to stop Iran from proceeding with its uranium enrichment program. Tehran says it is willing to negotiate with Europe to develop a "mechanism" that will ensure it uses its program solely for peaceful purposes. However, Tehran also says that Iran is ready to face the Security Council should the IAEA refer its case there. (Financial Times)
G-8 Nations to Meet on Iran (October 15, 2004)G-8 nations are meeting to discuss a plan drafted by European members to stop Iran from developing a nuclear arms program. The G-8 says that if Iran fails to comply with calls to cease its uranium-enrichment efforts, it will bring the issue before the Security Council and seek international punitive measures. (Washington Post)
Iran Seeks to Avoid Security Council Action (September 29, 2004)Iran is pushing for Europe to create "new mechanisms" to verify that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons in an attempt to prevent the issue from coming before the Security Council. Iran maintains it has a right to use nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes, but the US and independent experts suspect Iran may be trying to develop nuclear capabilities. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said the "new mechanism" would continue inside the UN nuclear monitoring body, the IAEA. (Los Angeles Times)
Iran Rejects UN Call to Freeze Nuclear Enrichment (September 19, 2004)The International Atomic Energy Agency issued a resolution on September 18 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment activities. Iran, however, has rejected the order, claiming it has only good intentions. The US hopes to bring the issue before the Security Council but Teheran says it will drop out of the nonproliferation treaty should this occur. (New York Times)
US Drops Plans to Report Iran to UN Security Council (September 5, 2003)The US has abandoned a draft resolution accusing Iran of “non-compliance” of UN nuclear regulations. The draft, circulated among members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), received little support for its lack of specific charges. (Reuters)
Iran Blames US Sanctions for Crash Killing 302 (February 20, 2003)The Iranian air industry is suffering from US sanctions on the purchase of US-made planes. Other air disasters may happen if the trade ban is not lifted. Iran's fleet has "reached a crisis point," says Tehran's Transportation Minister. (Associated Press)
US Companies Skirt Ban On Trade With Iran (February 28, 2002) US sanctions against Iran ban virtually “all trade and transfer of technology” to the Islamic Republic.However, the sanctions fail to prevent US firms from selling security and military equipment to Teheran through foreign subsidiaries. (Financial Times)
Cheney Panel Seeks Review Of Sanctions (April 19, 2001)The US is revising its sanction regime not only on Iraq, but also on Iran and Libya in order to meet energy needs in the country. (Washington Post)
US Eases Sanctions on Iran (March 17, 2000)The United States has lifted its ban on the sale of food items and carpets from Iran as a response to election successes by reformists in Iran. The US administration wishes to undermine the power base of conservatives who are more hostile to 'the American lifestyle' over time. (BBC World Service)
Iran Says Lifting of US Sanctions would be Positive Move (March 9, 2000)Iran's foreign minister speaks of Iran's desire for better trade relations with the US, particularly the lifting of sanctions on Iranian goods. (Nando Media)
Iran Smiles After US Waives Sanctions Against Three Companies (May 20, 1998)After intense lobbying by the European Union, the United States has permitted three energy companies from different countries to operate in Iran without facing punishments for this. (The New York Times)
The Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996: Results to Date (July 23, 1997)Testimony by Jeffrey J. Schott, Senior Fellow, Institute for International Economics before the Committee on International Relations, US House of Representatives.
Iran and Libya Sanctions Act A link to the text of HR 3107, an act that was enacted August 6, 1996.
Fact Sheet: Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996White House fact sheet on Iranian and Libyan Sanctions for 1996.