- In 2002, an Iranian dissident group reported that the regime had begun a clandestine nuclear weapons program.
- This began a six year cat and mouse game between the IAEA and the Iranian government in which the regime at times admitted to its secret program, and at times denied it. Iran’s leaders wavered between acquiescing to inspections and failing to fully comply with them.
Until 2003, there were similar concerns about Iraq’s WMD programs, which distracted attention from Iran.
- After the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the world’s focus returned to Iran.
- The IAEA verified the existence of Iran’s clandestine weapons program, but did not immediately refer the violation to the United Nations Security Council for punishment. Negotiations continued back and forth, led by France, Britain, and Germany, and eventually included the United States and Russia.
- As the IAEA continued to demand full disclosure from Tehran, and the international community debated enacting sanctions, the US pushed ahead on unilateral and secondary sanctions. In 2007, several rounds of sanctions were enacted by the Security Council, but support for tightening them dwindled among European allies going into 2008.
- In late 2007, a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released by the US government presented evidence that Iran had discontinued its nuclear weapons program in 2003, a conclusion many doubted, and one that contradicted IAEA findings.
- During all of this, American ally Israel proclaimed that Iran would never be allowed to get the bomb, even if it meant Israeli air strikes on Iranian targets.
- In addition to sanctions, the US also contemplated military measures.
- In January 2009, the New York Times revealed that the Bush Administration had refused Israel’s request for special American-made “bunker-busting bombs” for use in proposed Israeli air strikes, but that the US had instituted its own covert operation to thwart Iran’s technological progress (see Key Foundation Documents).
- By the time President Barack Obama took office on January 20, 2009, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ceased denying Iran’s intentions and was rallying the Iranian population around the country’s right to possess nuclear weapons. Several incentive packages offered by the Europeans had been rejected.
Next: Iran on the World Stage - Iran's Nuclear Program: The Threat