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Chemical Weapons

Iran is currently able to employ chemical weapons, and Iran is progressing in its development of a large self-supporting CW infrastructure. Iran ratified the new Chemical Weapons Convention , under which it will be obligated to eliminate its chemical program over a period of years. Nevertheless, it continues to upgrade and expand its chemical warfare production infrastructure and munitions arsenal. The magnitude of this effort suggests that the Iranian leadership intends to maintain a robust CW capability.

The Iranian chemical weapons production program dates to early in the Iran-Iraq war. Iran used chemical agents to respond to Iraqi chemical attacks on several occasions during that war. Since the early 1990s, it has put a high priority on its chemical weapons program because of its inability to respond in kind to Iraq’s chemical attacks and the discovery of substantial Iraqi efforts with advanced agents, such as the highly persistent nerve agent VX.

Iran manufactures weapons for blister, blood, and choking agents; it is also believed to be conducting research on nerve agents. Iran's stockpile of chemical weapons is believed to include nerve and blister agents. Iran is estimated to have an inventory of several thousand tons of various agents, including sulfur mustard, phosgene, and cyanide agents. Its production capacity is estimated at as much as 1000 tons a year, with major production facilities located at Damghan, 300 kms east of Tehran. Iran is working on developing a self-sufficient CW production capacity that includes more effective nerve agents. Along with shell and bomb delivery systems, Iran may also be producing CW warheads for its Scud missile systems.

With extensive foreign assistance, Tehran is obtaining technology, chemical agent precursors, production equipment, and entire production plants. Although Iran is making a concerted effort to attain an independent production capability for all aspects of its chemical weapons program, it remains dependent on foreign sources for chemical warfare-related technologies. China is an important supplier of technologies and equipment for Iran’s chemical warfare program. Therefore, Chinese supply policies will be key to whether Tehran attains its long-term goal of independent production for these weapons.

In the future, as Iran becomes more self-sufficient at producing chemical agents, there is a potential that it will become a supplier to other states trying to develop CW capabilities. Iran supplied Libya with chemical agents in 1987.

Sources and Resources

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