Iran’s Resumption of Nuclear Development: Additional UN Sanctions and International Impact

On June 9 the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution providing for additional sanctions against Iran, including restrictions on ballistic missiles. This Security Council Resolution 1929 was approved with affirmative votes from 12 countries (including Japan), two opposing votes (Brazil and Turkey), and one abstention (Lebanon). Iran declared its rejection of the resolution, but the United States, European countries, and others have been undertaking sanctions going beyond those stipulated in SCR 1929.

The Security Council adopted resolution 1696, which required Iran to halt its enrichment of uranium, in July 2006, and it subsequently adopted a series of additional resolutions, SCR 1747, SCR 1797, SCR 1803, and SCR 1835, taking steps including the imposition of sanctions against Iran. The discovery in August 2002 of secret construction of facilities revealed to the international community that Iran had been conducting activities including uranium enrichment experiments for 18 years without reporting them to the International Atomic Energy Agency. After that, handling of the issue of Iran’s nuclear program shifted from the IAEA Board of Governors and the “EU 3” (Britain, France, and Germany) to the UN Security Council and the “EU 3+3” (with the addition of China, Russia, and the United States). In May this year Turkey and Brazil undertook mediation, which led to an agreement between them and Iran for the transfer out of Iran of the enriched uranium produced in that country, but we can say that ever since the 2002 discovery, the Iranian nuclear issue has progressed in the form of growing international pressure and resistance from Iran.

The Iranian nuclear issue involves the core of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and of security in the region. Pressure on Iran from the international community can be expected to continue on an elevated dimension with direct involvement of the UN Security Council, its permanent members, and other major countries, and while it may become more intense, it is unlikely to diminish unless there is a dramatic change in Iran’s response. Within Iran, meanwhile, though the strengthened sanctions will have a major negative impact on the country’s economy and public finances and lead to heightened public dissatisfaction, external pressure in the form of sanctions will also benefit the cause of maintaining the existing Islamic regime, and if we look at the prospects just for the next year, it seems that Iran will be able to hold out. My forecast is that we cannot expect major progress on the Iranian nuclear issue during this one year. 1

The Regional Impact and Response of Major Countries

SCR 1929 and the sanctions imposed independently by the United States and the European Union have a major impact on Iran’s economy and public finances. The cost of trade has risen because the letters of credit required for trade have become impossible to secure in dollars. Also, the United Arab Emirates, which may be termed Iran’s trading window, is apparently refusing to allow the opening of new offices and bank accounts, and the Iranian business world is definitely encountering major difficulties. 2 The countries of the Persian (Arabian) Gulf, along with Pakistan, have declared and implemented strict observance at least of SCR 1929, and the US and EU sanctions are also affecting these countries’ business activities.

The Arab countries of the Gulf and Pakistan, while speaking officially of strictly complying with the Security Council resolution, opposing Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons, and seeking settlement through negotiations, have been adopting responses matching their respective relations with Iran. The Arab countries of the Gulf region have been responding quietly so as not to arouse Iran, which for them is a major country on the opposite shore of the Gulf; Pakistan, by contrast, with relatively many points of contention with Iran, has been taking a cool view of that country’s situation and has been attempting to take advantage of this situation in its own negotiations with Iran and with the United States.

The position of the Arab Gulf countries with respect to the Iranian nuclear issue is clear from the communiqué issued by the foreign ministers of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC) after their meeting on May 23: (1) Problems with neighboring countries should fundamentally be settled through peaceful means. (2) With respect to the Iranian nuclear issue, Iran should fulfill its international obligations; the GCC ministers welcomed international efforts in this connection, aiming to clearing the Middle East region of nuclear weapons. (3) The countries of the region have the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in line with international agreements and under IAEA supervision. In other words, the ministers were calling for settlement of the issue within an international and regional framework; they avoided provocative rhetoric and neither affirmed nor denied that they would act in concert with the United States and the EU. The reference to settling conflicts with neighbors through peaceful means is also a request directed at Iran; the communiqué seems to contain the message that, while the GCC members will comply with Security Council resolutions and other international obligations, they do not seek a head-on confrontation with Iran, and Iran should not apply pressure on them using the problems that exist between Iran and these countries.

Looking at Saudi Arabia, which is the largest of the Arab Gulf countries and includes the two holy sites of Mecca and Medina, we can note the following two points: First, in its position as protector of the two holy sites and leader among the Arab nations, it cannot allow itself to be seen as taking sides with Europe and the United States with respect to the Iranian issue. Second, Iran is a country with which Saudi Arabia has been enemies for many years and which the Saudis cannot trust, and if it were to come into possession of nuclear weapons, it would represent a serious threat and would greatly increase Saudi Arabia’s national security costs, at the same time it has influence over the countries of the Middle East and can at any time stir up the crises that exist within the region, and this point must be given ample attention. Within Saudi Arabia itself there are the problems of the Shia community in the Eastern Province and of Iranian pilgrims visiting Mecca. Saudi Arabia is trying to avoid direct conflict with Iran and instead to deal with that country indirectly with such moves as calling for settlement through an international framework and at the same time stepping up its vigilance over the Shias in the Eastern Province, the Houthi rebels of Yemen, and visiting Iranian pilgrims, strengthening its support for the Sunni forces in Lebanon and Iraq, and seeking to move closer to Syria so as to distance that country from Iran. For Saudi Arabia, which has no leverage over Iran, these indirect measures seem effective under current circumstances. Meanwhile, relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have turned very frigid recently in connection with such issues as Iran’s intervention in Yemen’s affairs—specifically its support for the Houthi rebels in that country. Iran has been sending out various feelers to Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis have adopted a nonresponsive stance.

In terms of leverage over Iran, Pakistan has the Iran-Pakistan pipeline as something it can use. Pakistan is in an adversary relationship with Iran as Sunni versus Shia and as rivals for political and economic influence in Afghanistan; the two countries are also rivals as regional powers. But they have points in common: Both are under pressure from major countries outside the region, particularly the United States, and both are experiencing sluggishness and declining growth rates in their domestic economies. Also, Pakistan is outside the framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and though it must comply with Security Council resolutions, it is not directly subject to regulation under the IAEA or other nuclear-related frameworks. Contrariwise, it has been the target of trade and other restrictions applied mainly by Europe and the United States in connection with trade in nuclear-related materials. In that sense it is in a position to use the Iranian nuclear issue as an element of its own diplomatic policy; also, the pipeline project has considerable value as a diplomatic card that can be used against both Iran and the United States.

On June 22 Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced that Pakistan would observe the sanctions stipulated by the Security Council resolution but would not be bound by the US sanctions, and on July 1 Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi declared that, despite pressure and problems, 3 the Iran-Pakistan pipeline project had been officially approved. 4 Pakistan has also declared it is calling for a solution of the Iranian nuclear issue through negotiations. 5

At the current stage, the pipeline project is being put into play not toward Iran but toward the United States. Pakistan has put this project outside the scope of the Security Council resolution; 6 it has nothing to lose economically from pursuing the project for the time being, 7 and it can use it as a chip to offer the United States, which views the project as a means of leverage against Iran. Meanwhile, it gets credit from Iran. Pakistan is able to take advantage of this project in the context of its broad relations with both countries.

In connection with its calls for a negotiated settlement of the Iranian issue, Pakistan has been referring to the concept of a nuclear-free Middle East, 8 but in view of the fact that this is not something that can be achieved in the near future and that Pakistan itself is not part of the Middle East, this has no downside for Pakistan, and it has the positive impact of distracting attention from Pakistan’s response to the Iranian nuclear issue and from the issue of Pakistan’s own nuclear program.

It seems fair to say that Pakistan’s stance is one of moving ahead with the pipeline project even while saying it is strictly complying with the Security Council resolution and calling for settlement of the problem through diplomatic negotiations; while observing developments, it is poised to respond if there are any moves involving its own interests. ( Translated from a report in Japanese published on July 22, 2010 )

1 See my June 27 report “Iran josei to Nansei Ajia” at

2 “Iran seisai eikyo o kiku,” Nihon Keizai Shimbun ( Nikkei ), morning edition (no. 14), July 16, 2010, p. 6.

3 This refers to urging from Special US Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, who visited Pakistan starting on June 19, as reported in Pakistan’s major English-language dailies ( The News , Dawn , and Daily Times ) on July 2.

4 July 2 editions of Pakistan’s major English-language dailies (see note 3).

5 Repeated reports in the June 11 and subsequent editions of Pakistan’s major English-language dailies.

6 June 10 statement by Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abdul Basit (June 11 editions of Pakistan’s major English-language dailies).

7 It will be 2015 when the pipeline is built and gas will actually start being exported to Pakistan.

8 The News , June 11, pp. 1 and 8.

Nobutaka Miyahara

  • Research Fellow