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– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Nuclear Nonproliferation

A Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement and Possible Military Dimensions to Iran's Nuclear Program

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Iran and the P5+1 are working to negotiate a comprehensive agreement by Nov. 24 that ensures that Iran does not use its nuclear program to build nuclear weapons.

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Volume 6, Issue 9, October 17, 2014         

Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) are working to negotiate a comprehensive agreement by Nov. 24 that ensures that Iran does not use its nuclear program to build nuclear weapons.

As they do, some U.S. policymakers are calling for resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) investigation into possible nuclear weapons-related activities that Iran is believed to undertaken before a nuclear deal with the P5+1 is reached.

Emphasis on a quick resolution to the IAEA's investigation and insistence that it is resolved before a comprehensive agreement is concluded, threatens to derail talks with the P5+1 and sabotage the progress made to date. A comprehensive agreement is still within reach if the two sides can agree on limits to Tehran's uranium-enrichment and plutonium-production capabilities, combined with more stringent international monitoring, in return for phased sanctions relief--but both sides must be flexible and keep extraneous issues from spoiling the talks.  

The concerns motivating U.S. lawmakers to call for resolution of the IAEA investigation in advance of a deal appear to have been spurred by the news that Iran missed an Aug. 25 deadline to submit information on two areas of activities that could be related to the development of nuclear weapons. These activities are part of a larger set of allegations that the IAEA listed in an annex to its November 2011 Board of Governors report about Iran's past activities related to nuclear weapons development, referred to as the possible military dimensions (PMDs). Iran is cooperating with the IAEA to resolve these concerns and has met with the agency twice since missing the deadline to determine a path forward.

Resolving the PMD issue is important but is not a prerequisite for a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Nor is it realistic or necessary to expect a full "confession" from Iran that it pursued nuclear weapons in the past.

While it is vital that Iran cooperate with the investigation in a timely manner, the IAEA will need time to pursue leads, conduct a thorough review of the evidence, and assess whether activities with possible military dimensions took place and if they have been halted. It would be unwise to rush the IAEA into a quick resolution of its investigation solely to meet negotiating deadlines or to hold up the conclusion of the talks in order to wait months, or even years, for the IAEA to wrap up its work.

Furthermore, it is more likely that the IAEA would be able to obtain the cooperation and the information it needs to resolve the outstanding PMD questions if there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement because the sanctions relief that is so important to Iran will be tied to the satisfactory conclusion of the IAEA probe. Moving forward on a comprehensive agreement that assures Iran that its future peaceful nuclear activities will not be penalized or further restricted if it discloses information about the PMDs could also serve as a motivator for Iran to cooperate with the IAEA's investigation in a more timely manner.

What Are the PMDs?
Although much of Iran's nuclear program consists of dual-use technology that can be dedicated to civil nuclear energy and nuclear weapons use, Tehran is widely believed to have pursued activities relevant to the development of a nuclear warhead in an organized program prior to 2003. According to evidence provided to the IAEA, some PMD activities may have resumed.

In November 2011, the IAEA released information in an annex to its quarterly report that detailed Iran's suspected warhead work based on intelligence it received from the United States and several other countries, as well as its own investigation. According to the report, Iran was engaged in an effort prior to the end of 2003 that spanned the full range of nuclear weapons development, from acquiring the raw nuclear material to working on a weapon that could eventually be delivered via a missile.

This judgment is consistent with the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Assessment on Iran, which assessed "with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons" and that the program was halted in the fall of 2003. It assessed "with moderate confidence that Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program."

According to the November 2011 IAEA report, however, some information from IAEA member states suggests that some activities that would be "highly" relevant to a nuclear weapons program have resumed since 2004. Subsequent IAEA reports indicate that the agency received further information about periodic activities related to weapons development.

The series of projects that made up what the IAEA's November 2011 report called "the AMAD Plan," appears to have been overseen by senior Iranian figures who were engaged in working-level correspondence consistent with a coordinated program. Among the key components of this program were the following:

  • High-explosives testing. Iran's experiments involving exploding bridge wire detonators and the simultaneous firing of explosives around a hemispherical shape point to work on nuclear warhead design. Iran admits to carrying out such work, but claims it was for conventional military and civilian purposes and disputes some of the technical details.
  • Warhead design verification. Iran carried out experiments using high explosives to test the validity of its warhead design and engaged in preparatory work to carry out a full-scale underground nuclear test explosion.
  • Shahab-3 re-entry vehicle. Documentation reviewed by the IAEA has suggested that as late as 2003, Iran sought to adapt the payload section of a Shahab-3 missile for accommodating a nuclear warhead.
Iran has denied pursuing a warhead-development program and claims that the information on which the IAEA assessment is based is a fabrication.

The agency's investigation, however, is not limited to PMD issues. The IAEA is also seeking clarification from Iran on its nuclear declaration to the agency. This includes providing the IAEA with greater access to sites, individuals, and information about nuclear activities, such as centrifuge development.

The information and access provided to the IAEA as part of these actions gives the agency a more-complete picture of Iran's nuclear activities, and allows the IAEA to verify the completeness and accuracy of Iran's nuclear declaration.

Resolving the PMDs
Prior to the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Iran resisted cooperation with the IAEA on its investigation into the PMD issues and other areas of concern related to the clarity and completeness of Iran's nuclear declaration.

Rouhani, however, promised greater transparency on Iran's nuclear program, although his government continues to dispute the validity of the PMD evidence in possession of the IAEA and refutes the allegations that work was done to develop nuclear weapons.  On November 11, 2013, Iran and the IAEA concluded a framework agreement for moving forward to resolve the outstanding concerns.

Under the terms of the framework, Iran and the IAEA agreed to resolve all outstanding issues, including PMDs, in a step-by-step manner.

In the past year, under this framework, Iran has agreed to three sets of actions and in total has provided the IAEA with information and access on 16 areas of concern, including one PMD issue. In May, Iran provided the IAEA with information regarding its experiments with exploding bridge wire detonators and has since provided additional information based on further questions from the IAEA. Iran maintained that its work with these detonators was for civilian purposes. Bridge wire detonators are used for drilling in oil and gas fields.  

In May, as part of a set of five more actions under the framework, Iran agreed to provide the IAEA with information on two more PMD issues.

These two actions, which were to be completed by Aug. 25, include providing the IAEA with information on the initiation of high-explosives and studies on neutron transport, related modeling and calculations, and their alleged application to compressed materials. These activities are relevant to developing nuclear weapons.

Iran missed the deadline, but has since met with the IAEA to determine a path forward. Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, said on Sept. 18 that the actions have not been completed "due to their complexity" and because the IAEA allegations are based on invalid information. Najafi said that the IAEA was aware Iran might not complete the actions by that date.

Most recently, Iranian and IAEA officials met in Tehran Oct. 7-8.Najafi described the meeting as "constructive." Iran and the IAEA agreed to meet again, at a date yet to be determined, to continue talks on resolving these issues.

PMDs and the Final Nuclear Agreement
Tying a comprehensive nuclear agreement to a resolution of the IAEA's investigation into the PMDs is unnecessary and risks derailing a deal.

Expecting Iran to "confess" that it pursued a nuclear weapons program is unrealistic and unnecessary. After having spent years denying that it pursued nuclear weapons and having delivered a fatwa against nuclear weapons, Tehran's senior leaders cannot afford to admit that it hid a nuclear weapons program.

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, 354 members of Congress said that transparency on the PMD actions are necessary in order to establish a meaningful monitoring and verification system in a comprehensive deal.

Resolution of the agency's investigation is not necessary to put in place a comprehensive monitoring and verification regime that will prevent Iran from pursuing a covert program to build nuclear weapon or deviating from a comprehensive nuclear deal.

Establishing a baseline of Iran's nuclear program based on the agency's investigation will also take some time. In a best-case scenario, IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano said last month that the IAEA will need 15 months to complete its investigation and assessment of Iran's nuclear declaration and PMDs. Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 have six weeks to reach a comprehensive deal. Rushing the IAEA to complete its investigation will not provide the agency with the appropriate amount of time it needs to assess the entire program.

The IAEA's investigation into Iran's past nuclear activities related to weapons development is a separate process, and conditioning a nuclear deal on completion of the agency's investigation would delay and likely undermine the prospect for the conclusion of a comprehensive nuclear deal that limits Iran's nuclear potential and improves the international community's ability to detect and disrupt any potential future nuclear weapons-related effort.

Stringent and intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms under the terms of the Additional Protocol would give the IAEA access to all of Iran's nuclear sites at short notice and access to additional sites if the agency suspects nuclear activities may be talking place. The IAEA and the international community will be able to quickly detect and deter any attempt to pursue nuclear weapons, whether through a covert program or by using declared facilities. Such measures are only possible with the negotiation of a comprehensive nuclear agreement by the P5+1 and Iran.

Additionally, sanctions relief that is important to Iran is likely to be tied to a satisfactory conclusion of the IAEA's investigation. The covert nature of Iran's nuclear program in the last decade spurred the IAEA to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. Subsequent sanctions that prohibit Iran from important materials and technologies important to nuclear development were put in place because Iran was not cooperating with the IAEA. It is unlikely that all of these sanctions will be removed without  satisfactory completion of the IAEA's investigation..

A comprehensive nuclear agreement can also take Iran's compliance with its IAEA obligations into account. Any future expansion of Iran's nuclear program, particularly its uranium enrichment, could be contingent  on the IAEA's satisfactory conclusion of its investigations. A deal between Iran and the P5+1 could also assure Iran that it will not be penalized for disclosures about past PMD activities.

Understanding Iran's past nuclear activities related to weapons development is important, but the international community must remain focused on a the future and ensuring that Iran's nuclear program is transparent and limited. Focusing too much on the past will only jeopardize the best opportunity in a decade to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran. --KELSEY DAVENPORT

Country Resources:

Myths and Realities: Unraveling the Impact of the UN Security Council Resolutions on Iran

Between 2006 and 2010, the UN Security Council has passed six resolutions related to Iran’s nuclear program. As Iran negotiates with the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) misconceptions abound about what the UN Security Council resolutions require Iran to do and how the resolutions impact conditions in a final nuclear deal.

Media Advisory: Experts to Discuss Prospects for a Nuclear Deal with Iran and a New Report on Cutting the Costs of Modernizing the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal at Annual Meeting

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As negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran reach a critical phase this week in Vienna, experts speaking at the Arms Control Association's annual meeting on Oct. 20 will discuss the prospects for a nuclear deal with Iran.

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For Immediate Release: October 15, 2014

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, 202-463-8270 x102; Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, x104; Timothy Farnsworth, Communications Director, x110.

(Washington, D.C.)-As negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran reach a critical phase this week in Vienna, experts speaking at the Arms Control Association's annual meeting on Oct. 20 will discuss the prospects for a nuclear deal with Iran by the Nov. 24 deadline.

Robert Einhorn, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, Elizabeth Rosenburg, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and Ali Reza Nader, senior international policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, will share their thoughts on the progress made to date and the remaining obstacles in the negotiations between Iran, the United States and its P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) on a nuclear agreement.

At the meeting, the Arms Control Association will also release The Unaffordable Arsenal, a new report on reducing the costs of the bloated nuclear weapons stockpile. Written by former Research Director Tom Collina and the research staff, the report argues that the increasingly high cost of nuclear weapons, combined with shrinking budgets and stockpiles, should compel the United States to rethink current plans to rebuild its nuclear forces in the years ahead.

Collina, now the policy director at the Ploughshares Fund, will discuss common sense ways to save roughly $70 billion over the next decade across all three legs of the nuclear triad and its associated warheads.

In a keynote address, Lord Des Browne, vice chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and former secretary of state for defense of the United Kingdom, will share his thoughts on what needs to be done to make progress to reduce nuclear dangers and strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation system ahead of the 2015 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.  

The annual meeting will be held 9:30a.m.-2:30p.m. on Oct. 20 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave, N.W., Washington D.C. For more details on the agenda, click here. Journalists are welcome to attend on a complimentary basis. Please contact Timothy Farnsworth to register.
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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

Country Resources:

P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, October 10

Negotiators for the P5+1 and Iran will return to the negotiating table in Vienna next week, as talks on a comprehensive nuclear agreement are set to resume Oct. 14-15. A meeting between lead P5+1 negotiator Catherine Ashton and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is already on the books, along with a trilateral meeting that will include U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The U.S. negotiating team will also be in Vienna for the talks and a bilateral meeting with Iran on Oct. 14.

Iran Nuclear Policy Brief: Breaking Down Iran's Breakout Capacity

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As efforts intensify to bring the Iran nuclear negotiations to a successful conclusion by November 24, the issue of breakout continues to occupy center stage.

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As efforts intensify to bring the Iran nuclear negotiations to a successful conclusion by November 24, the issue of breakout continues to occupy center stage. Setting limits on Iran’s nuclear program to dissuade the leaders in Tehran from breaking out of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and possibly building nuclear weapons is a central objective of the P5+1 powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). 

Consideration of the effect of agreed limits on the time it would take Iran to build nuclear weapons is therefore a necessary step in formulating the P5+1 negotiating position, but is not sufficient for navigating the appropriate course toward a comprehensive agreement. 

Relying on the narrow definition of the term “breakout”—obtaining enough weapons-grade uranium gas for one bomb—does not fully capture the path that would have to be traveled. It is also necessary to consider “effective breakout”—the time needed to build a credible nuclear arsenal—in order to ensure that the proper balance between verification and limitations can be achieved.

Subject Resources:

The Art of the Possible: The Future of the P5 Process On Nuclear Weapons

The “P5 process,” created by the five nuclear-weapon states to improve transparency and build confidence, is caught between internal tensions that stymie progress and pressure from non-nuclear-weapon states that demand it.

By Andrea Berger and Malcolm Chalmers

In 2007 the five recognized nuclear-weapon states convened for the first time to examine what nuclear transparency and confidence-building measures they could jointly pursue. The P5 process,[1] as it came to be known, was born in a nuclear policy environment vastly different from the one that prevails today.

It was established as a result of an initiative from the United Kingdom, which was eager to reverse the stagnation it sensed in the nuclear-weapon states’ progress toward meeting their disarmament commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In June 2007, UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett argued for the need to “engage with other members of the P5 on transparency and confidence-building measures,” as well as to involve them in the testing of future verification regimes.[2] 

The French submarine Le Terrible is seen during its inauguration in Cherbourg on March 21, 2008. In his speech at the ceremony, French President Nicolas Sarkozy highlighted France’s efforts to increase transparency with regard to its nuclear weapons program and dismantle its facilities for producing nuclear weapons material. (Mychele Daniau/AFP/Getty Images)This initiative aligned with renewed interest in arms control and nuclear transparency measures in other nuclear-weapon states. French President Nicolas Sarkozy used his 2008 speech at Cherbourg to reveal new transparency measures for the French nuclear force.[3] Shortly after entering office in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama set out his commitment to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons. He promised to reach an agreement with Russia on a further round of strategic arms reductions by the end of 2009 and argued that this would “set the stage for further cuts” and that the United States would seek to include all the nuclear-weapon states in this effort.[4] 

The P5 process was launched at approximately the same time, and its first high-level conference took place in London in September 2009. Its value in the broader strategic context was clear, that a forum for multilateral confidence-building measures among the nuclear-weapon states in relation to their nuclear forces could support other bilateral and multilateral nuclear initiatives, in which there was fresh interest. Proponents of the process hoped that nuclear-weapon-state cooperation could gradually generate sustainable momentum toward further disarmament. 

These encouraging developments breathed new life into the 2010 NPT Review Conference, at which the participating countries unanimously agreed on a 64-point action plan covering all three of the treaty’s pillars—disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Of particular relevance to this discussion, the action plan called on the nuclear-weapon states to act together to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons and to enhance transparency and mutual confidence. With this validation, the P5 process accelerated its efforts to undertake collaborative projects in time for the 2015 review conference. 

The P5 process is now nearing that milestone. Over the course of its life, it has taken small but potentially important collective steps. The modesty of these steps, however, has made a number of non-nuclear-weapon states concerned that earlier promises, namely, that the P5 process would someday help facilitate new disarmament measures, may never come to pass. Instead of gradual progress, those states see only opacity and potentially insurmountable stagnation. 

This impression is reinforced by the changes in relations among the nuclear-weapon states that have taken place over the past five years. These changes, such as those arising from the recent conflict over the future of Ukraine, have occurred outside of NPT meeting rooms. Antagonism of the type generated by the crisis in Ukraine is something the P5 process never had the power to counter. At the moment, the process is in a difficult position, caught between strategic realities and NPT pressures. 

It might still be possible for the P5 process to continue to undertake new initiatives, even if they are small and lack buy-in from all five members of the group. By doing so, the process could help lay the groundwork for more-ambitious disarmament endeavors that might become palatable if security relations among the nuclear-weapon states begin to improve. At the 2015 NPT Review Conference, these states should demonstrate the P5 process’ continued relevance by setting out a work plan detailing the initiatives they will pursue in the next NPT review cycle. Even this objective might be a challenge, given the reluctance of some nuclear-weapon states to support forward movement. Yet, without such a plan, doubts about the purpose of the process are likely to grow further, expanding the pressures that the five countries are likely to face from non-nuclear-weapon states in the NPT environment. 

The First Frost

As the 2015 review conference approaches, the broad international context is likely to be very different from that of 2010. Strategic relations between Russia and the Western powers have worsened to a level not seen since the late 1980s. Prospects for further strategic force reductions, through a successor to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), have long since receded. Even existing treaties, notably the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, are coming under pressure. 

Prospects for progress on other disarmament elements of the NPT action plan also have dwindled. The initial hope of the Obama administration that it might be able to resubmit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to the Senate for approval, still a real prospect in 2010, has been dashed by the intransigence of Senate Republicans. The agreement to convene a conference on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East by 2012, a key element of the 2010 review conference consensus, may go unrealized even by mid-2015. 

With almost every other disarmament track from the action plan in disarray or stasis, the P5 process has been left as one of the few remaining, albeit not untroubled, vestiges of the high hopes with which the participants in the 2010 review conference agreed to its final document. As a result, the process is now at risk of carrying a weight of expectations that exceeds the important but essentially supportive role it was intended to play. In the context of discussions among NPT-focused diplomats, it can sometimes appear as if the main obstacle to further progress on the P5 process or on disarmament more widely is the tension between forward-pushing non-nuclear-weapon states and resistant nuclear-weapon states. Although these tensions are undoubtedly present, the main obstacles to progress on the process, as on most other elements of the disarmament agenda, lie between the nuclear-weapon states themselves. The common interest in developing cooperative arms control measures is increasingly being outweighed by calculation of competitive military and political advantage, thereby narrowing the opportunities for progress to be made.

With the bilateral and multilateral disarmament and arms control tracks having now stalled, the P5 process, embedded in the NPT context but composed of states that developed and maintain nuclear weapons partly in reaction to insecurity created by the other members of the group, finds itself in a difficult position. In one respect at least, the five nuclear-weapon states remain united. They all share legal obligations within the NPT and the agreements reached at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference and subsequent review conferences to act together. The 2010 action plan, to which the five nuclear-weapon states agreed, reinforces this. 

At present, the nuclear-weapon states still share an interest in being seen to be taking this obligation seriously, not least to distinguish themselves from the “unrecognized” nuclear-armed states outside the NPT. As a result, none of the five has yet thought it in its interest to abandon the P5 process unilaterally despite their differences. Regardless of growing strategic tensions among some nuclear-weapon states, the P5 process must therefore also remain attentive to the concerns of non-nuclear-weapon states and continue to search for new forms of disarmament-relevant cooperation. Yet, with the process having only produced small fruit, NPT discussions in the run-up to the 2015 review conference are rife with discontent. 

Progress So Far

Efforts in the P5 process over the past five years have been focused on three areas: development of a glossary of nuclear terms, improvements in verification and monitoring, and the development of transparency and common reporting measures. 

Glossary. The initiative to produce a common glossary of nuclear terms is the most substantive element in the group’s work plan. At the beginning of the process, the participants realized that further discussions on transparency and arms control could be hampered unless there was a common understanding of terminology. At the first meeting, therefore, the five states agreed to develop a glossary of nuclear terms. China later agreed to lead this initiative.

By early 2013, the group had agreed on a short list of around 200 to 300 terms in English. It then proceeded with the more challenging task of negotiating common definitions for them. Recently, however, the glossary process appears to have fallen behind schedule as a result of unspecified substantive disputes. It is hoped that forthcoming meetings of the experts working group can resolve any outstanding issues and the process of translation into Chinese, French, and Russian can begin.[5] Fortunately, China continues to express its intention to submit a first draft of a glossary to the 2015 review conference. It is highly likely that a glossary, perhaps minus any divisive terms, will be presented at that event. 

One key factor in assessing the initial success on the glossary strand of the process will be whether it has produced common definitions of terms on which there is not already agreement in other multilateral glossaries, such as that maintained by the International Atomic Energy Agency. A second important factor will be whether it is able to produce terms that are relevant for future transparency and disarmament processes, such as “nuclear warhead” or “strategic missile.” If the glossary produces nothing new in these areas after five years of work, skepticism as to the value of the process could grow. Inevitably, there will be some areas in which consensus will not be possible and more work will be needed. In order to gain support for the further development of the process, however, negotiators need to show some concrete results from their first round of work. 

Verification and monitoring. The development of approaches to verifying and monitoring compliance with existing and future arms control treaties is already an important element in U.S.-Russian nuclear limitation regimes. It is likely to be of even greater importance if the numbers of weapons are reduced further or more states take on obligations to limit the size or shape of their arsenals. 

As a result of this logic, ever since its 1998 “Strategic Defence Review,” the UK has devoted some resources to exploring the technical requirements for verifying nuclear disarmament, with a particular focus on warhead dismantlement. To the irritation of some other nuclear-weapon states who wish to avoid involving their non-nuclear-weapon counterparts in verification initiatives, the UK has been cooperating with Norway on joint warhead dismantlement verification research since 2007. In October 2013, the UK and the United States revealed for the first time that they had been conducting similar research for more than a decade.[6] The UK has publicly declared its interest in exploring opportunities for collaboration with China on verification, and the two sides reportedly are now discussing the possibility. Beyond these largely bilateral initiatives, however, the five nuclear-weapon states have done little work together on the subject. 

Multilaterally, technical experts from the five states convened in London in 2012 for a meeting on verification issues and again in Vienna in March 2013 with respect to CTBT support. The group also has announced its intention to provide assistance to the field exercise that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is scheduled to hold in Jordan in November and December. 

Transparency and common reporting. Although verification of current data is off the agenda of the P5 process, there has been some progress on nuclear transparency, defined in this context as the publication of unverified information for the purposes of building confidence among the nuclear-weapon states and demonstrating NPT compliance to non-nuclear-weapon states. Progress on nuclear transparency was one of the priorities laid out in the 2010 action plan. Various items of the action plan call on the nuclear-weapon states to work toward qualitatively and quantitatively reducing their arsenals and report on their progress to the 2014 Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2015 NPT conference (Action 5), report regularly on action plan implementation (Action 20), and produce a standard reporting template into which transparency data could be entered, facilitating comparison among national declarations (Action 21). 

Pang Sen, director-general of the Arms Control and Disarmament Department in the Chinese Foreign Ministry,  speaks during a press conference at the UN Office at Geneva on April 19, 2013, following a two-day meeting of the five nuclear-weapon states.The nuclear-weapon states reached agreement on such a framework and presented their results to the NPT preparatory meeting earlier this year. They asserted that this submission fulfilled their obligations under Actions 5, 20, and 21. Yet, the common headings agreed by the five for the reporting framework were so general as to have been of little value in building confidence.[7] This reflects different national approaches to nuclear transparency among the five nuclear-weapon states and an overarching unwillingness at present to modify them substantially. Since 2010, France, the UK, and the United States have been willing to publish some aggregate information on their holdings of nuclear weapons and strategic delivery vehicles. By contrast, China and Russia have not been willing to do so. 

The five documents did have some common substantive characteristics. Each provided some useful insight into the nuclear doctrine and arms control policy of the country that submitted it. Indeed, China concentrated almost exclusively on this subject in its disarmament section and excluded any details on the shape or size of its arsenal. On the whole, the five reports provide little new data, for example, on warhead or delivery vehicle numbers.[8] 

Some disarmament-oriented non-nuclear-weapon states said the reporting exercise, despite the well-worn content and flaws in delivery, was a good start. It was apparent that many of these states believe that this start had taken place only because of the inclusion of a deadline in the action plan. It is now widely expected that the nuclear-weapon states will repeat this exercise, at a minimum once every review cycle. One can expect the need for this commitment and what specifically it would mean to be a point of debate at the 2015 review conference. Should future iterations of the common reporting exercise take place, the nuclear-weapon states will be expected to provide new data as evidence of forward movement. Yet, the five countries are still some way from reaching consensus on a reporting framework that would replicate, even on an unverified and partial basis, the publicly available information exchange already taking place between Russia and the United States under New START. 

Creating a Road Map 

Limited movement in the P5 process over the past year has followed predictable but positive trajectories. The five nuclear-weapon states continued to brief one another on bilateral verification efforts, highlighting the possibility that bilateral projects and activities could fill gaps where multilateralism proves impossible. They forged ahead with their collective work to create a common glossary of terms. Finally, as they had committed to do in the 2010 action plan, they submitted national reports with a common framework. Although the reports contained only sparse instances of novel information, the exercise serves as a solid foundation for future reporting iterations. 

Between now and the 2015 review conference, two outputs of the P5 process are on the horizon: coordinated national contributions to the CTBTO field exercise in Jordan and a first version of the glossary. Beyond those, the group’s agenda looks blank.

Because of the modest rate of progress, a growing number of non-nuclear-weapon states doubt whether the promised long-term value of the P5 process will ever be realized. A majority of the nuclear-weapon states do not feel compelled to pursue new, substantially more ambitious confidence-building exercises, especially in an age of mounting Russian aggression in Europe. Yet, without an effort by the nuclear-weapon states to continue taking gradual steps and laying the foundation for future arms control agreements, the voices in the NPT community that assert that the P5 process is a hindrance or an irrelevance could grow louder. 

In this context, a robust strategy that spells out a forward-looking plan for activity by the nuclear-weapon states would demonstrate that they genuinely intend for the P5 process to continue to support NPT implementation, albeit primarily in the long term. They might therefore want to consider formulating a general post-2015 working plan that they would be able to discuss next year in New York. In doing so, it might be helpful for them to consider how the projects they have recently undertaken or can feasibly undertake in the near term could serve as stepping-stones to progressively more ambitious trust-building activities. Having such stepping-stones in place would be of particular value if relations among nuclear-weapon states improve in future. 

A Move to Minilateralism?

Admittedly, identifying new projects that all five nuclear-weapon states would find palatable is difficult. As mentioned above, although the P5 process remains active, it has not been able to isolate itself from the wider cooling of relations among the nuclear-weapon states. One project, however, seems immediately agreeable to the group: a second iteration of the glossary. 

In 2013, approximately 200 of the more than 2,000 terms submitted made the short list for definition, leaving much more work to be done. It is difficult to assess what the value of another phase of the project would be without knowing which terms made that list. If numerous terms that are relevant to arms control and disarmament did not make the first cut, for instance, revisiting them to produce common definitions could be a worthwhile exercise. Regardless, the nuclear-weapon states have implied that a second iteration of the project could appear on their post-2015 work plan. According to the joint statement from the group’s 2014 Beijing conference, the five countries are aiming to complete only the “first phase” of the glossary project by the start of the 2015 review conference.[9] 

Beyond an expanded glossary, the group could amend its common reporting framework to include some quantitative aspects of the five states’ nuclear policies. This would be highly unlikely to cover data on national nuclear arsenals, at least in the medium term, as Beijing and others remain entirely uninterested in increasing transparency in that realm. Yet, the reports submitted to the 2014 Preparatory Committee meeting indicated that commonly articulated quantitative declarations might be possible in some areas. Financial contributions to the CTBTO or other relevant international agencies or transparency visits to nuclear-weapon states by experts of those institutions, for instance, are not as sensitive. A move toward regular provision of information under these categories could encourage continued and further multilateral cooperation by nuclear-weapon states. Moreover, it could familiarize states with a process of regularized quantitative declarations that could later be expanded if security dynamics permit. 

Because some projects would not be supported by all five states, one way to make progress in increasing the number of projects that can be used to demonstrate achievement during the next review cycle would be to look for opportunities for bilateral or multilateral projects that do not have buy-in from all five nuclear-weapon states, using the P5 process to coordinate such projects. In fact, the P5 process may already be on this trajectory. Nuclear weapons laboratories in the UK and United States will most probably continue their long-standing but only recently announced program of warhead dismantlement verification research. As noted above, the UK and China are reportedly in discussions about starting their own joint research on verification. 

France, although apparently uninterested in warhead-focused work, might be open to a partnership with the UK, the United States, or both that would focus on the dismantlement of a nuclear facility. In particular, cooperation that looks at the practicalities of dismantling or disabling facilities capable of producing fissile material would have relevance for a future fissile material treaty. Since Sarkozy’s Cherbourg speech in 2008, France has sought to emphasize its decision to close nuclear facilities as a central component of its disarmament record. France boasts that it was “the first State to decide to shut down and dismantle its facilities for the production of fissile materials for explosive purposes…[and] the only State to have transparently dismantled its nuclear testing facility in the Pacific.”[10] Proposals for technical cooperation that build on France’s record in facility dismantlement, with which other nuclear-weapon states also have experience, could gain traction with a majority of these states and could catalyze a discussion that would be useful for future arms control. 

Non-nuclear-weapon states may be understandably skeptical as to whether these bilateral initiatives can properly be classified as accomplishments of a process whose main purported value is that it brings together all five recognized nuclear-weapon states. Yet, the terrain on which all members of the P5 process can find agreement is small and shrinking. In the next NPT review cycle, the most likely package of work might include only one or two multilateral projects involving all five nuclear-weapon states, but a number of other initiatives involving fewer than five. 

A shift toward this type of agenda could admittedly lead to the temptation to artificially badge activity as part of the P5 process in order to undercut any assertions that the process has stagnated. This need not be the case. Novel bilateral or minilateral[11] projects could arise that would enhance NPT implementation. For example, joint UK-Chinese activity on warhead dismantlement verification would engage traditionally reticent Beijing in cooperative, disarmament-focused work, which would undoubtedly be a step in the right direction. Participants in the P5 process could use that process to brief their fellow nuclear-weapon states on progress on these types of projects and to coordinate and expand them. To an extent, the five-country meetings already have been used in this way. For instance, they provided a forum in which Russia and the United States delivered briefings to the smaller nuclear-weapon states on New START implementation. 

Conclusion 

The P5 process has been a useful addition to the broader system of interrelated international nuclear arrangements. It continues to provide an important mechanism through which the nuclear-weapon states are expected to demonstrate their shared commitments to fulfilling their NPT obligations. It already has yielded some modest results. More are in the pipeline for the period leading up to and including the 2015 NPT Review Conference, not least the common glossary of nuclear terms. Yet, the ability of the these five states to go beyond their current rate and depth of activity depends in large part on the improvement of broader security relations among them. 

The difficult security situation, however, does not mean that the P5 process is condemned to irrelevance until that improvement transpires. To prove this, the group should articulate a work plan for the next NPT review cycle that includes activities and accomplishments that could help facilitate future disarmament and arms control measures. New bilateral verification research partnerships, a more ambitious version of the glossary, and agreement on some common quantitative elements for national transparency declarations, for example, could be worthwhile in this respect. Undertaking and coordinating such projects in the context of the P5 process would demonstrate the value of the process as a tool that can be readily strengthened if wider strategic relations between the major nuclear powers create an opportunity for greater disarmament progress. 

When that day comes, there is likely to be strong support for an effective mechanism to coordinate and facilitate the disarmament efforts of the nuclear-weapon states. It would be better if the P5 process were at the ready, with nuclear-weapon-state officials having already worked together in a forum mindful of the NPT and the commitments that flow from it. Despite the recent deterioration of security relations among nuclear-weapon states and, as a result, in the prospects for disarmament, the P5 process is something nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states should work to keep alive. 


Andrea Berger is a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, where Malcolm Chalmers is research director. Some of the research for this article draws on conversations conducted on a not-for-attribution basis with officials of various governments. The authors are grateful to all their interlocutors for sharing their insights.


ENDNOTES

1. The five countries that the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty recognizes as nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) also are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

2. Margaret Beckett, Remarks at the Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference, Washington, June 25, 2007, http://carnegieendowment.org/2007/06/25/keynote-address-world-free-of-nuclear-weapons/kc0.

3. France2010TNP, “Speech by Nicholas Sarkozy, President of the French Republic: Presentation of ‘Le Terrible’ Submarine in Cherbourg,” March 21, 2008, http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/IMG/pdf/Speech_by_Nicolas_Sarkozy__presentation_of_Le_Terrible_submarine.pdf (hereinafter Sarkozy speech).

4. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Barack Obama—Hradcany Square, Prague, Czech Republic,” April, 5, 2009, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-By-President-Barack-Obama-In-Prague-As-Delivered

5. See Andrea Berger and Malcolm Chalmers, “Great Expectations: The P5 Process and the Nonproliferation Treaty,” Whitehall Report, No. 3-13 (August 2013), pp. 21-26.

6. UN Web TV, “Technical Challenges in Verifying Nuclear Dismantlement,” October 25, 2013, http://webtv.un.org/watch/technical-challenges-in-verifying-nuclear-disarmament/2769294424001/

7. For further discussion, see Andrea Berger, “The P5 Nuclear Dialogue: Five Years On,” RUSI Occasional Paper, July 2014, annex 1. 

8. The main exception to this was the U.S. announcement of an updated total for its nuclear weapons stockpile, which fell from 5,113 in September 2009 to 4,804 in September 2013. U.S. Department of State, “Report of the United States of America Pursuant to Actions 5, 20, and 21 of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference Final Document,” April 29, 2014, p. 7. 

9. Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State, “Joint Statement on the P5 Beijing Conference: Enhancing Strategic Confidence and Working Together to Implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Review Outcomes,” April 15, 2014, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/04/224867.htm.

10. Sarkozy speech.

11. Moisés Naím defines “minilateralism” as an approach that involves “gathering the smallest number of countries necessary to make a major change to the way the world addresses a particular issue.” Moisés Naím, “The G20 Is a Sad Sign of Our Uncooperative World,” The A-List (blog), Financial Times, February 15, 2013, http://blogs.ft.com/the-a-list/2013/02/15/the-g20-is-a-sad-sign-of-our-uncooperative-world/. In the present article, the term is used to mean an approach involving some but not all of the five nuclear-weapon states.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran: What Role?

The AEOI is a powerful bureaucratic actor that has not only undertaken controversial nuclear activities, but also influenced Tehran’s diplomatic efforts to persuade the international community that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

By Paul Kerr

Iran’s persistent expansion of its uranium-enrichment program and its covert construction of an underground gas-centrifuge enrichment facility at Fordow have contributed to concerns that Tehran harbors nuclear weapons ambitions. Arrangements for constraining Iran’s ability to use its declared enrichment facilities for nuclear weapons programs are a particularly controversial element in the ongoing multilateral negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. 

Much of the discussion about Iran’s potential production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) for use in nuclear weapons has focused on its three previously secret enrichment facilities that now are under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The concern is that Iran could use these facilities to produce HEU, perhaps after withdrawing them from safeguards. 

Such concerns are understandable, but it is worth examining evidence from official and authoritative, unofficial Iranian and U.S. sources about the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), the entity that controls Iran’s enrichment program, including the Fordow facility and two other centrifuge facilities—a commercial plant and a pilot plant—located at the Natanz nuclear site. This evidence suggests that the AEOI is motivated, at least in part, by a desire to demonstrate its technical prowess via the enrichment program. Moreover, according to the evidence, AEOI nuclear activities appear to be exclusively peaceful, an observation consistent with U.S. intelligence assessments in 2007 and afterward that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in late 2003. If accurate, the evidence described in this article indicates that Iran’s declared facilities are not part of a plan to produce nuclear weapons. It is considerably more likely that Iran would attempt to develop nuclear weapons using covert undeclared facilities. 

Nevertheless, although observers understandably suspect that Iran may possess undeclared nuclear sites, there is no public official evidence that Iran has enrichment-related facilities other than those operated by the AEOI. Furthermore, clandestine facilities could not easily substitute for Iran’s declared nuclear program as a source of material for a potential nuclear arsenal. It would be no simple feat for Iran to conceal an entire covert nuclear weapons program—a fact demonstrated by Tehran’s past failure to keep its secret nuclear activities hidden.[1] For these reasons, a discussion of the AEOI’s role is germane to the larger debate over Iran’s nuclear program.

The AEOI 

The AEOI is a powerful bureaucratic actor that has not only undertaken controversial nuclear activities, but also influenced Tehran’s diplomatic efforts to persuade the international community that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has applied safeguards on the Iranian nuclear program since 1974, began investigating the program in 2002. The IAEA subsequently reported on various nuclear activities, some of which were related to uranium enrichment, that Tehran had failed to disclose to the agency. Pursuant to agreements with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (known collectively as the EU3), Iran suspended its enrichment program from the fall of 2003 to the summer of 2005.[2] Starting in 2007, the UN Security Council adopted a series of resolutions that imposed sanctions on Iran. Tehran’s persistent efforts to continue and expand the program continue to generate fears that Iran is trying at least to develop the ability to produce a nuclear weapon.[3] The unresolved IAEA investigation, some of which concerns Iranian activities possibly related to nuclear weapons development, has contributed to such fears.

Established in 1974, the AEOI initiated a number of activities related to nuclear power over a short period of time.[4] After the 1979 revolution, Iran’s nuclear program was controlled by the Ministry of Energy, but the AEOI was split off from that ministry soon thereafter.[5] The AEOI currently operates Iran’s declared enrichment program and has a variety of peaceful programs in areas such as agriculture, medicine, and basic nuclear research and development.[6] 

A Powerful Bureaucratic Actor

The AEOI has played a crucial role in Iran’s past diplomatic efforts concerning its nuclear program. The AEOI was in charge of such efforts until after an IAEA Board of Governors meeting in June 2003,[7] during which the board first expressed “concern” about Iran’s past undeclared nuclear activities and urged Tehran to cooperate with the IAEA investigation.[8]

Subsequently, Iran formed a committee within its Supreme National Security Council to coordinate the government’s nuclear diplomacy.[9] This committee included various ministers, including the head of the AEOI. Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s recently elected president who formerly headed the negotiations concerning the nuclear program, stated during a July 2005 interview that the committee played a role in Tehran’s refusal to end its enrichment program. The committee decided that “the nuclear fuel cycle was our red line and under no circumstances would we waive it,” he explained.[10] Rouhani later revealed in a May 2012 interview that the AEOI had “wanted to end the suspension” of Iran’s enrichment program.[11] 

The AEOI remains an important bureaucratic player, apparently leading Iran’s interactions with the IAEA regarding the agency’s investigation.[12] In addition, AEOI experts participate in multilateral negotiations concerning Iran’s nuclear program.[13]

A Peaceful Entity

The AEOI has understandably been the subject of suspicions regarding its possible role in an Iranian nuclear weapons program. The organization undertook some of the nuclear activities revealed by the IAEA investigation, such as secret enrichment experiments. The AEOI is subject to sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council, the U.S. government, and the European Union that are designed to restrict Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapons capability and induce the government to comply with the Security Council resolutions.

Nevertheless, there are several indications that AEOI activities are not part of a nuclear weapons program. First, a 2011 IAEA description of the management structure of Iran’s suspected past nuclear weapons program does not include the AEOI.[14] Second, the U.S. intelligence community appears to believe that AEOI nuclear activities are peaceful. For example, a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which judged that Iran had had a nuclear weapons program but halted it in late 2003, appeared to exclude the AEOI-run enrichment program. The NIE defined the weapons activities as “nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work.”[15]

Moreover, the U.S. intelligence assessment of Iran’s underground enrichment facility at Fordow, the existence of which was made public by France, the UK, and the United States in September 2009, appears to illustrate the AEOI’s peaceful role. The covert nature of that facility and its location on a military base have fed suspicions that the facility was part of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program. U.S. intelligence community talking points from September 2009 indicated otherwise, stating that the facility’s existence did “not contradict” conclusions of the 2007 NIE regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program.[16] Part of the reason for this judgment, the talking points suggest, was that the Fordow facility was developed by the AEOI, its presence on a military base notwithstanding. 

A Forceful Advocate 

Iran’s expansion of its enrichment program could be a product of bureaucratic aggrandizement rather than an effort to develop a nuclear weapon. The AEOI appears to have been a persistent and effective advocate of expanding the program. In his 2012 book, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, who was Iran’s spokesman during the government’s 2003-2005 negotiations with the EU3, portrayed the AEOI as an entity focused on its technical progress. According to his account, some Iranian Foreign Ministry officials “had been worried” that AEOI officials who “had previously taken the lead in handling” Tehran’s nuclear discussions with the IAEA had been “overly optimistic and failed to predict the emergence of the nuclear crisis because of their focus on straightforward technical matters.”[17] Mousavian is not a neutral observer, but Rouhani appeared to reinforce this point in the May 2012 interview, revealing that the AEOI advocated terminating Iran’s suspension of its enrichment program in order to silence skeptics within the government of the organization’s ability to execute the plans for the program.[18] 

Perhaps significantly, the AEOI appears to have had considerable freedom of action. Rouhani, who then was secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, explained in a 2004 speech that the government had granted the AEOI additional autonomy sometime between 1999 and 2000. That move allowed it “to become more active, without being forced to go through bureaucratic and regulatory labyrinths,” Rouhani said.[19] He appeared to suggest that, as a consequence of these changes, the AEOI undertook the pre-2003 secret enrichment activities on its own initiative.[20] For obvious reasons, the secret nature of these activities caused concern, but they may have been the result of AEOI freelancing rather than a nuclear weapons program. 

Conclusion

Iran’s declared, AEOI-run enrichment facilities have an inherent nuclear weapons-related potential. Concerns about those facilities are likely to persist; determining the best way to address these concerns is beyond the scope of this article. There is legitimate trepidation regarding Iran’s potential nuclear weapons ambitions.

Yet, some observers’ concerns about Iran’s declared nuclear facilities may be overblown. “Who runs what” matters in Iran, and the current bureaucratic structure of the country’s nuclear program supports the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapons program. The evidence described above indicates that the AEOI is an influential organization pursuing a peaceful nuclear program. Concerns about possible Iranian activities related to nuclear weapons are understandable, but those activities appear to have been halted and were not pursued by the AEOI. Although a great deal of public discussion about Iran concerns Tehran’s potential to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium using its AEOI-controlled facilities, Iran would likely use covert facilities to produce a nuclear weapon. 

The AEOI is not above reproach. The organization was involved in undeclared nuclear activities of concern and could be connected with Tehran’s past nuclear weapons program. Nevertheless, Tehran’s determination to maintain at least part of its enrichment program may not indicate an intention to develop nuclear weapons. Observers and policymakers concerned about a future Iranian nuclear weapons program would do well to focus on Iranian entities other than the AEOI. 


Paul Kerr has been a nonproliferation analyst at the Congressional Research Service since 2007. He previously was a research analyst for five years at the Arms Control Association. Some of the research for this article was conducted while he was a visiting fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Congressional Research Service. 


ENDNOTES

1. International Institute for Strategic Studies, Iran’s Strategic Weapons Programmes: A Net Assessment (Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2005).

2. Iran concluded these agreements in October 2003 and November 2004.

3. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Communication Dated 27 November 2013 Received From the EU High Representative Concerning the Text of the Joint Plan of Action,” INFCIRC/855, November 27, 2013. 

4. For a description of these activities, see U.S. Embassy Tehran, “The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, AEOI,” A-69, May 11, 1977, http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb268/doc14b.pdf

5. “If We Want Nuclear Energy, We Should Not Make a Fuss,” Sharq, September 7, 2013 (interview with Reza Amrollahi, former head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran [AEOI]). 

6. For details, see AEOI, “Nuclear Industry in Iran: An Overview on Iran’s Activities and Achievements in Nuclear Technology,” 2012.

7. In a 2004 speech, Hassan Rouhani identified the AEOI as “the authority that was basically handling all political and technical issues concerning this case” until after the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in June 2003. The AEOI “used to appoint the Islamic Republic of Iranʹs representative to Vienna to deal with the IAEA,” he explained. “Beyond the Challenges Facing Iran and the IAEA Concerning the Nuclear Dossier,” Rahbord, September 30, 2005, pp. 7-38.

8. In a 2005 interview, Rouhani described the IAEA board’s action as “the first time that the issue took on widespread international dimensions.” Mehdi Mohammadi, “Nuclear Case From Beginning to End in Interview With Dr. Hasan Rouhani (Part 1): We Are Testing Europe,” Keyhan, July 26, 2005. 

9. “Beyond the Challenges Facing Iran and the IAEA Concerning the Nuclear Dossier”; Hamid Baeidi-Nejad, “Khatami’s Nuclear Policy,” Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring 2005): 61. The author of the latter article is apparently a current Iranian Foreign Ministry official and a participant in Iran’s negotiations regarding its nuclear program.

10. Mohammadi, “Nuclear Case From Beginning to End in Interview With Dr. Hasan Rouhani (Part 1).”

11. Muhammad Sahimi, “Q &A: Former Iran Nuclear Negotiator: Bush Negotiation Bid Was Rebuffed,” PBS, May 12, 2012, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2012/05/qa-former-iran-nuclear-negotiator-bush-negotiation-bid-was-rebuffed.html.

12. Iran signed a joint statement with the IAEA on November 11, 2013, describing a Framework for Cooperation to resolve the outstanding issues in the IAEA investigation of Iran’s nuclear activities.

13. For example, Ali Akbar Salehi, who was Iran’s foreign minister during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and currently is head of the AEOI, concluded a November 2013 agreement with the IAEA concerning this issue. See “Salehi: Technical Experts to Participate in Talks Between Iran, G5+1,” Fars News Agency, January 5, 2014.

14. IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2011/65, November 8, 2011.The report states that an entity thought to be part of the program assisted procurement for the AEOI. 

15. U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” November 2007. 

16. “Q&A on the Qom Enrichment Facility,” September 25, 2009, http://www.politico.com/static/PPM41_qom_-_q-as.html.

17. Seyed Hossein Mousavian, The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2012), pp. 70-71.

18. Sahimi, “Q &A: Former Iran Nuclear Negotiator.” 

19. “Beyond the Challenges Facing Iran and the IAEA Concerning the Nuclear Dossier.” 

20. The AEOI also had considerable freedom of action in the past. The 1977 U.S. diplomatic cable describes the AEOI as possessing “unusual authority to hire staff and to initiate a ‘high priority program.’” U.S. Embassy Tehran, “Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, AEOI.”

After 20 Years of Failed Talks With North Korea, China Needs to Step Up

China, North Korea’s only meaningful ally, should use its leverage to ensure that Pyongyang returns to meaningful negotiations on its nuclear weapons program. 

By Joseph R. DeTrani

Twenty years ago this month, North Korea and the United States concluded the Agreed Framework. That accord halted North Korea’s nuclear weapons program at Yongbyon in exchange for heavy fuel oil and the eventual provision of two light-water reactors (LWRs) at Kumho, North Korea. 

The agreement was the result of prolonged negotiations during a tense period. Unfortunately, its success was temporary. Eventually it became clear that North Korea in the late 1990s was pursuing a clandestine program to enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons in violation of the Agreed Framework. In October 2002, when an official U.S. delegation confronted the senior North Korean negotiator with this information during talks in Pyongyang, the negotiator admitted that North Korea was pursuing an enrichment program and other unspecified programs.

Subsequent to this admission, North Korean officials maintained that they did not have an enrichment program. They changed their story again in 2010, when they revealed to visiting U.S. nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker that they had an enrichment facility at Yongbyon with 2,000 spinning centrifuges. Hecker was permitted to visit this facility and was impressed with its sophistication.[1] Thus, the issue of North Korea’s clandestine enrichment program was finally put to rest. North Korea proudly admitted having the program, despite its past disclaimers and the skepticism of observers in the United States and China who questioned the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that North Korea had a clandestine enrichment program for nuclear weapons development.

The October 2002 meeting in Pyongyang triggered a series of events starting with the North pulling out of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the United States halting construction of the two LWRs and ceasing shipments of heavy fuel oil. North Korea then started to reprocess the more than 8,000 spent fuel rods at Yongbyon, stored in a cooling pond pursuant to the Agreed Framework, for the purpose of fabricating nuclear weapons. During this period, China brought the United States and North Korea together in April 2003 for talks in Beijing. Those discussions resulted in a decision to establish the six-party talks to address nuclear issues with North Korea through negotiations. The first six-party meeting was in August 2003.

As part of this process, the six parties issued a joint statement on September 19, 2005, committing North Korea to comprehensive and verifiable denuclearization in return for security assurances, economic assistance, and the eventual provision of LWRs. Although some subsequent progress was made, North Korea in 2008 refused to commit to a written verification protocol providing for meaningful monitoring of its denuclearization efforts. When confronted with their lack of cooperation on the monitoring, North Korean officials summarily declared an end to the six-party talks. This declaration came after the United States had complied with a request by North Korean officials to remove their country from the list maintained by the U.S. Department of State of countries supporting terrorism. To date, the six-party talks and related nuclear negotiations with North Korea have not resumed.

The Potential Threat

It is estimated that North Korea has six to 12 plutonium nuclear weapons and an active enrichment program. These realities must be addressed. North Korea has an active ballistic missile program that includes its long-range Taepo Dong missiles and its new KN-08 long-range, solid-fueled mobile missile that, according to people familiar with North Korea’s missile program, is capable of reaching any location in the United States. North Korean missiles now pose an existential threat to South Korea and Japan and, once the KN-08 is operational, will pose such a threat to the United States and other countries.

Since 2006, North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests, four long-range Taepo Dong missile launches, and numerous launches of short- and mid-range ballistic missiles, all in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. The December 2012 Taepo Dong launch successfully put a North Korean satellite in orbit. The routine launches of Pyongyang’s short- and mid-range missiles have established that these missiles are accurate. They are also in abundant supply, as North Korea has sold these missiles and its technical know-how to countries such as Iran, Libya, and Syria. 

Despite UN resolutions prohibiting North Korea from selling or purchasing missiles and high-end weapons, North Korea has done its best to continue to sell these proscribed items, mainly for revenue purposes. The Proliferation Security Initiative, with more than 100 countries participating, has been relatively effective in monitoring North Korea’s consistent attempts to circumvent these resolutions. 

Since the death of Kim Jong Il in December 2011, his son and successor, Kim Jong Un, has assumed a more belligerent approach toward relations with Japan, South Korea, and the United States. With the reconstitution of a reactor, which has a capacity of 5 megawatts electric, and a reprocessing facility, which uses the standard PUREX (plutonium-uranium extraction) process for separating plutonium from spent fuel, at the Yongbyon site, North Korea is capable of producing more fissile material for nuclear weapons and may in fact be doing so. At the same time, Pyongyang apparently is expending resources on the miniaturization of these weapons, with the goal of mating them to ballistic missiles. 

Overall relations with North Korea have deteriorated exponentially since the 2010 sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean ship, which killed 47 sailors. In March and April 2013, North Korea threatened pre-emptive nuclear attacks against South Korea and the United States and brazenly posted a YouTube video of a simulated nuclear attack on New York City. Pyongyang followed that with the brutal execution in December 2013 of Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, the second-most powerful official in North Korea, and the reported purge of officials whom Jang had appointed. These unsettling developments coincided with the unprecedented shuffling of senior generals in the Korean People’s Army, which contributed to speculation that the domestic situation in North Korea was fluid and potentially volatile. 

North Korea’s active nuclear and missile programs, if unchecked, could encourage other countries such as Japan and South Korea to build their own nuclear weapons despite extended-deterrence commitments from the United States. Senior Japanese and South Korean officials often broach this subject in private conversations with their U.S. counterparts, noting the nuclear threat from North Korea and their concern that North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons and will build more nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems capable of defeating any missile defense system in these countries. 

Current UN sanctions on North Korea are having a significant impact. Additional UN sanctions may target the leadership’s money and deny Pyongyang access to international financial institutions, which are necessary for the movement and laundering of its money. North Korea undoubtedly will work hard to circumvent these sanctions and acquire needed revenue through the sale of missiles, high-end weapons, and possibly even nuclear materials and nuclear know-how. 

Pyongyang’s past nuclear relationship with Syria should not be forgotten. The preponderance of evidence indicates that North Korea provided Syria with the assistance and materials necessary to build a plutonium-based nuclear weapons program. The key element of the assistance was a gas-graphite reactor with an estimated capacity of 40 megawatts thermal, making it similar to but larger than North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor.[2] This is a powerful reminder that nuclear proliferation from North Korea is a concern.

Chinese Action Needed

Progress in addressing North Korea’s nuclear programs depends greatly on China’s role because North Korea depends on China for food and most of its energy supply. Historically, the bilateral relationship with China, memorialized in a 1961 treaty, was deep and thorough—like “teeth and lips,” as it was described in a common refrain from China and North Korea during the warmer days of their relationship. 

China is North Korea’s only meaningful ally, even with the current tension in the bilateral relationship. After the implosion of the Soviet Union, Russia scaled back its relations with North Korea, leaving only China as the North’s true benefactor. Indeed, China provides North Korea with more than 70 percent of the country’s requirements for crude oil; significant amounts of food and aviation fuel also come from China. Chinese-North Korean trade was worth more than $1.3 billion last year, with China investing heavily in the North’s precious-metals sector. Although bilateral relations have deteriorated since Kim Jong Un succeeded his father and one seldom hears the “teeth and lips” refrain, the relationship is still strong.

Given the close and long-standing relationship between the two countries and the reliance of North Korea on China for energy and food assistance, the United States believes that China can exert more pressure on the North to return to meaningful nuclear negotiations and persuade North Korea to take some important steps. In particular, North Korea would be expected to declare that it is still committed to the 2005 joint statement and thus is prepared to dismantle its nuclear program in return for assurances that the United States and other countries would not invade the North or seek regime change and for economic assistance that would include engagement with international financial institutions, the provision of LWRs, and, ultimately, the establishment of normal relations with Japan, South Korea, and the United States. 

Only China has this leverage with North Korea, and it is in China’s interest to use this leverage to ensure that North Korea returns to meaningful negotiations. A refusal by North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons could incite other countries in the region to pursue their own nuclear weapons programs, as noted above. Such a development would be of great concern to China. Also of concern to Beijing would be the possible proliferation of nuclear materials and the resulting adverse effects on China of such proliferation. 

As it did in 2003, China should promptly convene an exploratory meeting in Beijing with North Korea and the four other countries involved in the six-party talks process. This meeting would determine if North Korea is committed to fulfilling the terms of the 2005 joint statement. If it is committed to that goal, then the resumption of talks, focusing on implementation of the joint statement, would be possible. This would benefit the international community and constitute a diplomatic success for China. Convincing China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, to take the lead on this issue also could lead to a closer dialogue on other issues currently affecting China’s relationship with the United States and other countries.

If North Korea refuses to give up its nuclear weapons, then China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States need a strategy for dealing with a nuclear North Korea capable of destabilizing the region. This strategy would need to ensure that North Korea does not proliferate missiles, high-end weapons, and nuclear materials.

Permitting North Korea to retain and build more nuclear weapons will destabilize Northeast Asia. That could lead to a nuclear arms race in the region and the potential for a progressively isolated and desperate North Korea proliferating nuclear materials and know-how. China, with the support of the United States, must prevent this from happening. 


Joseph R. DeTrani, the president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, was U.S. special envoy for the six-party talks with North Korea from 2003 to 2006. He was mission manager for North Korea from 2006 to 2010 and director of the National Counterproliferation Center from 2010 to 2012 in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any government department or agency. 


ENDNOTES

1. Peter Crail, “N. Korea Reveals Uranium-Enrichment Plant,” Arms Control Today, December 2010.

2. David Albright and Paul Brannan, “The Al Kibar Reactor: Extraordinary Camouflage, Troubling Implications,” ISIS Report, May 12, 2008, http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/SyriaReactorReport_12May2008.pdf; David Albright and Paul Brannan, “Syria Update III: New Information About Al Kibar Reactor Site,” ISIS Report, April 24, 2008, http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/SyriaUpdate_24April2008.pdf.

A Global Nuclear Weapons Freeze

In the seven decades since the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have become less and less relevant to the security of possessor states and their allies.

By Daryl G. Kimball

In the seven decades since the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have become less and less relevant to the security of possessor states and their allies and more harmful to international security and human survival.

Today, the world’s nuclear-armed states still face significant security threats, but none can be effectively resolved with nuclear weapons or the buildup of nuclear capabilities. Nevertheless, each of these states is modernizing its nuclear arsenal. 

Throughout the Cold War, nuclear risk reduction efforts appropriately focused on the need to halt and reverse the buildup of the massive U.S. and Soviet arsenals. But in the coming years, a renewed and more comprehensive approach involving all major nuclear-armed states is essential.

Beginning in the late 1980s, U.S. and Soviet/Russian leaders negotiated four bilateral arms reduction agreements that have slashed their nuclear stockpiles. Despite that progress, each side still deploys about 1,500 strategic warheads on several hundred bombers and missiles—far more than necessary to deter nuclear attack. If these weapons were used even in a “limited” way, the result would be catastrophic global nuclear devastation. 

Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States is prepared to pursue cuts that go an additional one-third below the ceilings set by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Russian President Vladimir Putin’s answer, so far, is “nyet.” He claims that U.S. missile defense plans threaten Russia’s retaliatory potential and maintains that other states’ nuclear arsenals must be addressed. 

Clearly, Washington and Moscow can and must do more. Each possesses an arsenal that is 10 times larger than any other nuclear-armed adversary. Furthermore, with New START verification tools in place, additional nuclear reductions do not require the negotiation of a new treaty. 

Despite sharp differences on Ukraine and other issues, Obama and Putin could jointly announce they will accelerate the pace of reductions under New START. As part of the announcement, each leader could say that he would be willing to go further as long as the other does so. A reasonable target would be to reduce each side’s arsenal to 1,000 deployed strategic warheads and 500 strategic delivery vehicles.

This approach could spur the world’s other major nuclear-armed states to get off the sidelines and join the game. The involvement of these states is essential.

As Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists wrote in Arms Control Today in May, the numerical nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia may be over; but elsewhere, “a dynamic technological nuclear arms race is in full swing and may increase over the next decade.” 

China, India, and Pakistan, in particular, are all pursuing new ballistic missile, cruise missile, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems. In addition, Pakistan has dangerously lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities to counter perceived Indian conventional military threats. North Korea continues its nuclear pursuits in violation of its earlier denuclearization pledges.

These arsenals, although smaller in number, are dangerous and destabilizing. Leaders in Beijing, New Delhi, and Islamabad profess support for nondiscriminatory disarmament and minimum deterrence, but there is little or no dialogue among themselves and with others on nuclear risk reduction. Ignoring the commitment made by the nuclear-weapon states at the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference to undertake further efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate all types of nuclear weapons, Chinese officials suggest they will not do so unless there are additional, deeper U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons cuts.

Some in Washington naively suggest that the response to these trends should be to increase the lethality and quantity of U.S. nuclear forces. That would only compound the problem by giving these states a cynical excuse to expand their arsenals even faster.

Frustrated by the slow pace of the nuclear-weapon states’ “step-by-step approach” to disarmament, more than 140 non-nuclear-weapon states have tried to catalyze progress by convening a series of conferences that document the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use. The effort is vitally important, but has not yet led to a unified, realistic diplomatic proposal for halting nuclear competition and starting multilateral disarmament talks.

Creative ideas are needed to overcome the obstacles and excuses. Beginning with the third humanitarian-consequences conference in Vienna this December and the 2015 NPT Review Conference, leading states, including the United States, should actively press those states not yet engaged in the nuclear disarmament effort to freeze the size of their arsenals and their fissile material stockpiles as a first step toward multilateral, verifiable reductions.

Nuclear weapons continue to pose global dangers. Their elimination is a global enterprise that requires renewed leadership, dialogue, and action on the part of all the world’s nations. A unified push for further U.S.-Russian arms cuts combined with a global nuclear weapons freeze could create the conditions for multilateral action on disarmament and open the door for multilateral talks on the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Resolution on Israel Fails at IAEA

For the second year in a row, a resolution critical of Israel’s nuclear program failed to pass the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month. 

By Kelsey Davenport

For the second year in a row, a resolution critical of Israel’s nuclear program failed to pass the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month. 

IAEA member states voted 58-45 against the resolution on Sept. 25.

The nonbinding resolution, referred to as “Israeli Nuclear Capabilities” and sponsored by a group of 17 Arab states, called on Israel to put its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards and join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapon state.

In 2009 a similar resolution passed the IAEA conference for the first time after being voted down for years. An attempt the next year failed. The Arab states did not put the measure on the agenda in 2011 and 2012, saying they hoped that Israel would be more likely to attend a regional meeting on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East if it did not feel singled out for condemnation in the region.

The Arab states revived the measure in 2013 after the meeting on the WMD-free zone did not take place as planned in December 2012. 

A commitment to hold the meeting by the end of 2012 was a critical piece of the consensus on the final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference. A meeting subsequently was scheduled for December 2012 in Helsinki, but was postponed when it became clear that not all of the countries in the region were willing to attend the conference. (See ACT, December 2012.)

Israel does not publicly admit to possessing nuclear weapons, but is widely believed to have an arsenal of approximately 80 to 100 warheads. Israel is an IAEA member and has placed some of its nuclear facilities under agency safeguards.

Thomas Countryman, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said in a Sept. 25 statement that the United States “regret[ted]” that the resolution was introduced.

He said discussion of the resolution diverted IAEA member states from the “shared priority of strengthening the IAEA, and has diverted the regional states from the critical task of engaging with each other.”

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