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The United Nations Security Council has passed multiple resolutions on Iran over its nuclear program. Three impose economic sanctions on Tehran because Iran's leaders refuse to comply with Security Council mandates that Iran stop enriching uranium.
Yet other countries are permitted to enrich uranium, or are allowed to receive nuclear materials and technology for the development of a civilian nuclear program. Why is Iran in a different category?
The answer is that Iran has failed to live up to its international obligations in the critical nuclear area. Like 189 other countries, Iran is a party to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, the NPT. The treaty gives countries the right to receive nuclear technology and materials for the development of a civilian nuclear energy program. In exchange, the treaty obligates countries to demonstrate that their nuclear programs are not being used to develop nuclear weapons, declare all nuclear activities to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, and allow international inspection by the IAEA.
Iran became a party to the NPT in 1968. In 2003 the IAEA reported that Iran had concealed secret nuclear activities for 18 years, in violation of its obligations under the NPT. As a result, in 2006, the Security Council urged Iran to suspend all activities related to enrichment and reprocessing or face sanctions. When Iran refused to comply, the Security Council, by a unanimous vote, decided that all member states should prevent the supply, sale and transfer to Iran of all items, materials, equipment, goods, and technology which could contribute to Iran's enrichment-related or reprocessing activities or to the development of a nuclear weapon delivery system.
In 2007 and 2008, the Security Council expanded these sanctions in response to Iran's continued defiance.
Since 2008, the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, the P5+1, have vigorously sought a diplomatic solution with Iran that would build confidence that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful in nature. The diplomatic push for a solution continues, even after the recent disclosure that Iran has been building another secret enrichment facility near the city of Qom.
President Barack Obama says if Iran "does not take steps in the near future to live up to its obligations ... we are prepared to move forward with increased pressure." But if Iran takes those steps, he says, "There is a path towards better relations with the United States, increased integration with the international community, and a better future for all Iranians."