If Iran insists its nuclear program is purely peaceful, why are there concerns?
Well, there shouldn't be any - if Iran can be believed.
Iran insists all it wants to do is provide a stable supply of electricity to a country of 70 million. Iran's goal is to generate 7,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear power plants by 2020.
Sounds good, so far. But it's the second part of Iran's goal that has some worried. Tehran also wants to be self-sufficient in making fuel for its reactors. The process that makes nuclear power fuel, though, is also used to make material that can be used in nuclear weapons.
Still, under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, a country has the right to make its own nuclear fuel - as long as the process is closely monitored. Most countries that generate nuclear power import the fuel they need.
The International Atomic Energy Agency - the UN body responsible for monitoring the treaty - hasn't been convinced that Iran has been completely forthcoming about its nuclear intentions.
Some western countries also argue that Iran does not need to generate power from nuclear plants because it is rich in oil and natural gas deposits.
Hasn't Iran opened its program to inspections?
Yes, according to Iran. Not totally, according to the IAEA.
In 2002, Washington became very concerned after intelligence reports pointed to the existence of two secret nuclear facilities. According to an Iranian opposition group, the plants had been funded by front companies. The IAEA said the construction of the plants may have violated Iran's obligations to the agency - especially if Iran introduced nuclear material into the facility to test it, without informing the IAEA.
Through much of 2003, Iran allowed inspectors into the country.
On June 19, 2003, the IAEA called on Tehran to stop plans to begin enriching uranium and to allow inspectors the access they would need to clarify questions over Iran's nuclear program. The agency did not declare Iran in violation of its treaty obligations, nor did it refer the matter to the UN Security Council, as some U.S. officials had urged. The IAEA's director general - Mohamed ElBaradei - said the country had failed to report certain nuclear materials and activities.
In August 2003, UN inspectors reported they had found traces of weapons-grade, enriched uranium in an Iranian nuclear facility - but that it could take months to fully analyse the material.
On Sept. 12, 2003, the IAEA board of governors expressed "grave concern that, more than one year after initial IAEA inquiries to Iran about undeclared activities, Iran has still not enabled the IAEA to provide the assurances that all nuclear material in Iran is declared and submitted to Agency safeguards and that there are no undeclared nuclear activities in Iran." The board called on Iran to fully co-operate with the IAEA and ensure there are no more failures to own up to its nuclear capabilities - or risk being declared in contravention of the non-proliferation treaty.
A toughly worded United Nations resolution, which strongly deplored "Iran's 18-year cover-up of a nuclear program including uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing," prompted Iran to freeze nuclear inspections.
In March 2006, the IAEA sent a dossier to the UN Security Council that accused Iran of withholding information. After looking into the "Iran file" for three years, the agency said it had serious doubts about the nature and direction of Iran's nuclear program.
Is Iran working on its own?
In September 2003, the United States chastised Russia for helping Iran in its nuclear program. Russia said it was helping only with the technology to generate nuclear power.
In February 2004, the man who developed Pakistan's nuclear program admitted he transferred nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Abdul Qadeer Khan reportedly sold centrifuge parts to Iran for about $3 million. Centrifuges are used in the process of making fuel for nuclear power plants - and material for nuclear weapons.
Pakistan's president pardoned Khan.
What has been the European Union's involvement?
The EU, fronted by Britain, France and Germany, has been quite active in trying to avert a crisis. Two of those three countries - France and Germany - have been at odds with the United States over its involvement in Iraq.
There have been concerns that Washington has contemplated acting against Iran since President Bush's "axis of evil" speech identified Iran as a problem country, mainly because of its alleged nuclear aspirations.
The EU wants Iran to get out of uranium enrichment and promise to co-operate fully with the IAEA. In exchange, Iran would get a light-water nuclear reactor, nuclear fuel and trade benefits. Spent nuclear fuel would be removed from the country.
The U.S. has stayed away from the European initiative, neither endorsing nor condemning it.
Where do things stand now?
In November 2004, the EU and Iran made an agreement that Iran would suspend its program to produce enriched uranium while the IAEA continues its investigation. The EU would not refer the issue to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions. The U.S. reserved its right to press for sanctions.
In August 2005, after the inauguration of a new president, Iran rejected the EU package of proposals aimed at curbing its nuclear activity. A few days later, Iran resumed its nuclear program, reopening its uranium conversion plant in Isfahan in the presence of IAEA inspectors.
European diplomats had expressed concern that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be less co-operative than the previous government.
The IAEA adopted a resolution presenting Tehran with a Sept. 3 deadline to stop its uranium enrichment activities or face possible referral to the Security Council.
Tehran reacted with defiance, with the Iranian Foreign Ministry calling the resolution an "unacceptable" result of American pressure.
So far, the IAEA has hesitated to refer the matter to the Security Council because of the risk that it will not approve sanctions. China has indicated in the past that it could use its veto power to block a resolution against Iran.
In October 2005, the United States and France urged Iran to return to the negotiating table in an effort to curb its nuclear arms program. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she wants the talks to restore faith in the international community. She wants reassurances Iran is not trying to build a nuclear weapon. Rice met with British, French and Russian leaders, trying to gain support to report Iran to the UN Security Council.
In January 2006, Iran escalated the confrontation by removing the UN seals at one its uranium-enrichment plants and resuming nuclear research. Iran denied it's producing nuclear fuel by enriching uranium. But the U.S. and its EU allies again warned Iran that it risks referral to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions. In March 2006, the IAEA sent its report on Iran to the UN Security Council. That report, which was highly critical of Iran's non-compliance with the IAEA's nuclear inspection efforts, would be the basis for possible Security Council sanctions against Iran. But diplomats said it was unlikely that the U.S. would press for sanctions as a first step. They said it was more likely that the 15 members of the Security Council would issue a presidential statement that would demand that Iran comply with IAEA resolutions.
From: Iran's nuclear program: FAQs CBC News Online | March 13, 2006