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Nuclear Nonproliferation

P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, March 2

March Arrives: Negotiations Advancing; Debate in DC Intensifying Bilateral talks between Iran and members of the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) will resume in Montreux, Switzerland beginning today, March 2, and culminating with a full meeting of the political directors from all seven countries on March 5. The U.S. delegation will include Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz. They will meet again with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi...

Voting Up-or-Down on an Iran Nuclear Deal: Not as Easy as 123

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Volume 7, Issue 4, February 11, 2015

The new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), says he will introduce legislation that would give Congress the opportunity to vote to disapprove or approve a comprehensive nuclear agreement between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran.

Corker argues that an up-or-down vote on a P5+1 and Iran deal—patterned on the procedures in Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act for congressional approval/disapproval of civil nuclear cooperation agreements—is a way for Congress to weigh-in and have a “constructive” role in Washington’s negotiations with Iran.

However, a closer examination of Corker’s initial proposal to subject the P5+1 and Iran agreement to the same legislative requirements as a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement or an arms control treaty raises more questions—and problems—than its answers.   

Consequently, the Obama administration has signaled that it opposes the Corker proposal, which has not yet been formally introduced but may soon be considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Corker’s proposal would block implementation of any comprehensive agreement between the P5+1 and Iran until the congressional review period and vote is completed. 

The congressional review period would not begin until the Obama administration and the intelligence community completes a detailed nonproliferation assessment of the agreement—a complex process that could take many weeks to prepare.

As a result, Corker’s proposal would effectively delay or block implementation of measures in the comprehensive agreement that would curtail Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

This would put the comprehensive agreement, as well as the interim agreement, in a state of legal and political limbo that could lead to the unraveling of the historic diplomatic opportunity to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. 

In addition, any initiative that would subject a comprehensive P5+1 and Iran deal to congressional approval (and possible amendments that place conditions or requirements on its implementation) would overstep congressional authority in the area of executive branch conduct of foreign policy.

By putting the agreement, and/or waivers of sanctions necessary to implement the deal, up for an early vote—and possible disapproval— before Iran has a chance to demonstrate it will carry out initial nonproliferation steps, Congress creates the very real risk that the United States (not Iran) would be blamed for derailing any long-term P5+1-brokered agreement to verifiably limit its nuclear capabilities. Such a deal, is, by far, the most effective way to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, proliferation in the region, and/or another war in the Middle East.

Before any legislation for a direct vote of approval/disapproval is advanced in Congress, responsible policymakers should carefully examine the proposal, evaluate downside risks, consider common sense alternatives, and recall the respective roles of the legislative and executive branches.

They should be mindful that unlike a civil nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and another country, a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran will be a political agreement between the five-permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany, and Iran designed to induce Iran to meet goals and obligations established by the Security Council and Iran’s obligations as a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, including its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Over time, Congress will have a vital role in monitoring implementation of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, including legislative action to remove and/or not renew legislatively-mandated, nuclear-related sanctions on Iran—if and when Iran fulfills key non-proliferation obligations called for in a comprehensive agreement.

An Iran Nuclear Deal Is Not a 123 Agreement

Senator Corker stated in a January 2015 Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing that he is working on legislation that would require an up-or-down vote on a comprehensive Iran deal that “builds off the 123 agreements” currently in place. 

Under Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, nuclear cooperation agreements are subject to approval by Congress. These “congressional-executive” agreements are designed to ensure that U.S. cooperation with foreign nuclear programs, including the transfer of U.S. nuclear material, equipment, or technology, conforms to U.S. export control laws, meets Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing requirements, and is used exclusively for peaceful purposes and not for the development of nuclear weapons.

After the administration negotiates a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with another country, it is submitted to Congress, first to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and then to Congress, for review.

The agreement must meet nine nonproliferation criteria and include a nuclear proliferation assessment statement explaining how the agreement meets those criteria and does not damage U.S. national security interests.

If no action is taken by Congress during the review period, the nuclear cooperation agreement enters into force. If Congress adopts a joint resolution disapproving the agreement and the resolution becomes law, the agreement does not enter into force.  Sometimes, the resolutions are hotly debated and amendments are adopted that set additional conditions on U.S. nuclear transfers to the other country.

A nuclear deal with Iran, however, will not involve the transfer of proliferation sensitive material, technology, or information from the United States.

Instead, the P5+1 and Iran nuclear agreement will require Iran to meet specific requirements that effectively limit its capability to produce material that can be used for nuclear weapons and will put in place additional monitoring requirements to guard against any dash for nuclear weapons in the future. 

Subjecting the P5+1 and Iran agreement to the same legislative requirements as a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement is unnecessary, and it carries enormous risks for the success of a good P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.

Delay and Possible Derailment of Steps to Curb Iran’s Capabilities

If it follows the process of a 123 agreement, Corker’s proposals would require putting implementation of the P5+1 and Iran agreement on hold for at least 90 days (and perhaps longer), including implementation by Iran of key steps that would reduce its proliferation potential.

At the onset of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, Washington may need to waive certain sanctions measures in return for Iranian concessions. An extended congressional review process could impede the process and delay implementation of additional limits and monitoring on Iran’s nuclear program.

Worse still, if Congress votes to disapprove of the nuclear deal with Iran or vote to revoke or block the President’s existing legislative authority to waive certain nuclear-related sanctions, the Corker proposal would have derailed the carefully-constructed P5+1 diplomatic framework to verifiably block Iran’s potential pathways to nuclear weapons.

In that scenario, the approach being pursued by Senator Corker would leave the United States with no credible “Plan B” to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

Additionally, if the United States is seen as causing the deal to collapse, international support for the sanctions regime that was critical to bringing Iran to the negotiating table will erode.

Executive and Legislative Authority

Voting a verifiable, comprehensive agreement with Iran up or down also undermines the respective roles of the Executive and Legislative branches.

A nuclear agreement with Iran is not a treaty that requires Senate advice and consent for ratification. A nuclear deal with Iran will not, in any way, limit the military capabilities of the United States, as is the case with bilateral or multilateral nuclear arms control treaties and nonproliferation agreements that are subject to the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Nor will an agreement impose obligations on the United States beyond lifting sanctions that were intended to push Iran to the negotiating table.

It is the prerogative of the executive branch to conclude agreements in the national security interests of the United States. Setting a precedent for congressional review of such agreements sets a dangerous precedent for future executive branch decisions.

Furthermore, given that the UN Security Council will likely consider and approve a new resolution recognizing the agreement and mandating that the P5+1 and Iran undertake certain actions to implement it, a congressional vote of approval/disapproval would be redundant. And, if Congress votes to disapprove the agreement, it could lead to a direct conflict of opinion and legal authority between the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. President/UN Security Council.

Congress’s Constructive Role

There are other, more constructive ways for Congress to monitor compliance and implementation of a comprehensive P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.

As part of the broad parameters agreed to in the interim deal, the United States committed to remove all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran as part of a comprehensive agreement. Under that process, the phase-out of those sanctions will begin with Presidential waivers, and later, if Iran meets key nonproliferation obligations, removal of UN Security Council and U.S. sanctions.

In the future, if Iran is abiding by its commitments, Congress will need to pass legislation removing some of these key nuclear-related measures, which incentivizes Iran to comply with the deal in the long term.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed this point in a January 2015 Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on the Iran nuclear talks. He said:

“… the best way to ensure that Iran complies with its obligations would be to suspend the existing sanctions, not end them, to test Iran's compliance, and only then, and obviously Congress would have to play a lead role in this, to actually end the sanctions.”

Additionally, Congress can provide a forum for a public discussion of Iran’s implementation of any comprehensive agreement.

Periodic congressional oversight hearings to discuss findings from the IAEA and the executive branch on Iran’s compliance with a comprehensive agreement and the impact of such an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program can serve an important role in holding both sides accountable.

At the same time, Congress should refrain from mandating automatic re-imposition of sanctions measures against Iran on the basis of unsubstantiated third party reports or intelligence obtained by foreign governments about possible noncompliance with the terms of the agreement.

It is and should remain the responsibility of the President, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and using information obtained by the IAEA, to determine whether Iran has materially violated the comprehensive agreement in a manner that threatens international security and is not working to come back into compliance with the terms of the agreement.

Establishing a record of compliance (or noncompliance) will be key when Congress eventually votes on whether or not to remove nuclear-related sanctions on Iran that are essential to the implementation of the agreement.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy, and DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director

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Posted: December 31, 1969

What Would An Effective Comprehensive Nuclear Deal With Iran Look Like?

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Volume 7, Issue 3, February 9, 2015 

Top diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Germany (the P5+1) and Iran are working hard to build upon their successful Nov. 2013 interim nuclear agreement, which has halted, and in some areas, rolled back the most proliferation-sensitive aspects of Iran's nuclear program.

The P5+1 are seeking a comprehensive, verifiable nuclear agreement that would block Iran's major potential pathways to nuclear weapons development--the uranium-enrichment route and the plutonium-separation route--and guard against a clandestine weapons program, thus removing a major threat to international security.

Over the past year, Iran and the P5+1 have made significant progress on long-term solutions on several challenging issues. Following the most recent round of high-level talks, Western officials were reported to have said that the two sides have further narrowed differences on how many uranium enrichment centrifuges Iran will be allowed to operate under a long-term agreement, but hard-to-bridge differences remain on the timing for the lifting of sanctions and the duration of any deal.

The P5+1 and Iran are aiming to reach a political framework agreement by the end of March and conclude the technical annexes by the end of June.  

Senior U.S. officials have said their goal is to significantly reduce Iran's capacity to enrich uranium in order to increase the time that Iran would theoretically require to produce enough weapons-grade material for one bomb to at least twelve months.

Just as importantly, the comprehensive agreement would increase the international community's ability to promptly detect and disrupt any future effort by Iran to build nuclear weapons (including at potential undeclared sites).

Though the aims and objectives are clear, a number of myths and misperceptions have clouded the discussion about what a comprehensive agreement must achieve and why. Debate on a good deal should be based on a realistic assessment of the issues, objectives and options.  

Toward a Realistic Evaluation

Any comprehensive agreement that is struck between the P5+1 and Iran should not be evaluated on the basis of any single feature (such as the number of centrifuges).

While each element is important, the agreement should be judged on its overall impact on reducing Iran's fissile-material production capacity and providing the additional transparency and monitoring necessary to detect and deter any future Iranian nuclear weapons program.  

Policy makers should also assess the comprehensive nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran in the context of the plausible alternatives, including the absence of a comprehensive agreement, rather than  vague hopes of a "better" deal that might still be negotiated at some future time.

Blocking the Uranium Path  

A key element of a comprehensive agreement will be sustainable limits on Iran's uranium-enrichment capacity that verifiably block Iran from quickly amassing enough fissile material for weapons.

As part of the 2013 interim nuclear agreement, the two sides agreed Iran would halt production of uranium gas enriched to 20% uranium-235, eliminate its stock of uranium gas enriched to that level, and temporarily halt further expansion of its centrifuge capacity. Iran has 19,000 centrifuges, of which 10,200 first generation centrifuges are operating.

The two sides also agreed in the interim deal that a comprehensive agreement should define a "mutually defined enrichment programme" with "agreed limits on the scope and level of enrichment, activities, capacity...and stocks of uranium" that should be "consistent with practical needs" for a "period to be agreed upon."  

Iran's nuclear fuel supply needs currently are very limited, but could grow in the coming years. Its current enrichment capacity exceeds its near-term needs and provides the technical capacity to produce a quantity of weapons-grade uranium gas sufficient for one nuclear bomb (25 kilograms) in about two to three months if such an effort were not detected and slowed or halted.

Consequently, the P5+1 is pressing Iran to significantly reduce its overall uranium-enrichment capacity for at least ten years in order to increase the time Iran would theoretically require to produce enough weapons-grade material for one bomb to at least twelve months.

While the overall number of operational centrifuges is a major factor, in reality, the agreement must address a number of elements of Iran's overall enrichment capacity in order to reach the 12-month theoretical "breakout" objective, including

  • barring Iran from enriching uranium above normal power reactor grade (five percent or less uranium-235);
  • putting in place verifiable restrictions that block Iran from manufacturing advanced centrifuges for production-scale enrichment for the duration of the comprehensive agreement;
  • significantly reducing the number/capacity of Iran's 10,200 operating IR-1 centrifuges for several years;
  • reducing the amount and form of low-enriched uranium stockpiled in Iran; and
  • verifiably disabling the approximately 9,000 centrifuge machines that are now installed but not yet operating.  

There are several possible ways these variables can be combined to increase the time that it would take Iran to amass enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.

For example, by reducing Iran's current operating enrichment capacity by half, combined with a significant reduction in the size of Iran's low enriched-uranium stocks and conversion to more proliferation-resistant oxide form (or removal to a third country), the time it would take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade enriched-uranium gas for one nuclear weapon would grow to nine to 12 months.

With enhanced international monitoring capabilities, that is more than enough time to detect and disrupt any effort to pursue nuclear weapons in the future.  

Blocking the Plutonium Path

A comprehensive agreement will need to address the risks posed by Iran's unfinished 40-MWt, heavy-water reactor project at Arak. Under the current design configuration, the reactor could produce enough weapons-grade plutonium per year for about two nuclear weapons. Because the Arak site represents Iran's only indigenously developed and domestically constructed nuclear facility, Tehran strongly opposes any outcome that would require it to shutdown the facility.

Preventing completion of the Arak reactor or converting it to a light-water reactor is not the only way to guard against its possible use for fissile material production, as some have claimed.  

Iran and the P5+1 agree in principle that as part of a comprehensive agreement, the design of Iran's Arak heavy-water reactor project can and should be modified-by reducing the power level and/or changing the fuel content and configuration--to drastically cut its annual weapons-grade plutonium output far below what is required for a nuclear weapon. They also agree that Iran shall not build a reprocessing facility that would be needed to separate that material from spent reactor fuel. A critical step for this particular path for obtaining nuclear-weapons material.

More Robust Inspections and Monitoring

Iran's major nuclear sites are already regularly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and very closed watched by U.S. intelligence. However, U.S. intelligence officials have testified since 2007 that if Iran were to make the decision to build a nuclear weapon, it would probably "use covert facilities--rather than its declared nuclear sites--for the production of highly enriched uranium for a weapon."

On January 29, 2014, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reported to Congress that the intelligence community still assesses "Iran would not be able to divert safeguarded material and produce enough [weapons-grade uranium] for a weapon before such activity would be discovered."

Blocking the clandestine path to a bomb-also known as "sneakout"-is a top goal for the P5+1. Iran has already agreed to more intrusive IAEA scrutiny of its nuclear sites, including daily access to its enrichment facilities," as part of last year's interim nuclear agreement.

But to guard against "sneakout," it is essential that a more robust international monitoring and inspection system be put in place to detect and deter potential weapons work at any secret sites. The only way to achieve this is through a long-term comprehensive nuclear deal.

To achieve the transparency necessary to promptly detect and disrupt any effort to pursue nuclear weapons in the future, even through a potential clandestine program, Iran and the P5+1 agreed that a comprehensive deal would, among other things, require implementation and ratification of the additional protocol to the IAEA's safeguards agreement with Iran.

Specifically, the additional protocol gives the IAEA expanded right of access to information and nuclear sites. With the additional protocol, the agency will have regular access to Iran's entire fuel cycle, including facilities such as Iran's uranium mines, fuel fabrication facilities, and the heavy-water production plant. This will make it more difficult for Iran to siphon off materials for a covert program if the IAEA is tracking inventory.

The additional protocol also helps the IAEA check for clandestine activities in Iran by providing the agency with greater authority to carry out inspections in any facility suspected to contain nuclear material or be part of a nuclear weapons program. It also enables the agency to visit the facilities at short notice, making it more difficult to cover-up any activities intended to divert materials or that are inconsistent with a facilities' stated purposes.

Once ratified, these arrangements would last in perpetuity. Additional inspection measures, including on site inspections of centrifuge workshops, will also likely be part of the agreement.

Resolving Questions About Possible Military Dimensions

It is vital that Iran continue to cooperate with the ongoing IAEA investigation of past activities with "possible military dimensions," and to do so in a timely manner. Given the need for a thorough investigation, however, it would be unwise to rush the IAEA into a quick resolution of its investigation solely to meet negotiating deadlines.

To make the determination that Iran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful, the agency will need to investigate each of the issues involving possible military dimensions individually, and assess them as a system to gain a complete understanding of Iran's past work on nuclear weapons development. In late-2013, the IAEA and Iran agreed to a framework for cooperation for resolving the issues.

Measures proposed in the U.S. Congress that would require Iran to resolve all questions about the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program before the conclusion of negotiations on a comprehensive agreement are counterproductive.

Both sides understand that the ongoing IAEA investigation of past Iranian activities with possible military dimensions will continue after a comprehensive nuclear agreement is reached. At the same time, it is clear that key sanctions relief measures, including UN Security Council measures tied to the issue, would not be removed until, and unless, the investigation is completed. As a result, it is more likely that Iran will more fully cooperate with the IAEA investigation if there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement with the P5+1 that offers incentives to comply.

Some members of Congress, along with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), suggest that without a "full" explanation of Iran's past weaponization efforts, "it is impossible to fully understand its nuclear capability."

Iran's nuclear capability is well understood, though clearly, the more the IAEA understands about Iran's past work the better. Given Iran's history, it should be assumed that Iran's scientists have already acquired information that is important for building nuclear weapons.

An admission from Iran that its scientists once engaged in work intended to help build nuclear weapons will not erase that knowledge. It is also naive to think that Iran's leaders, some of whom have issued religious decrees against the development, production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons, will make such an admission.

The chief goal for the P5+1 is to structure a comprehensive agreement in such a way that it ensures the IAEA obtains sufficient information to determine that Iran has halted any nuclear activities with possible military dimensions. A good deal will also put in place the monitoring and verification to ensure that Iran is not pursing these activities in the future.  

The Role of Sanctions and Sanctions Relief

U.S. and international sanctions have helped bring Iran to the negotiating table and changed Iran's cost-benefit calculus, but sanctions alone have not stopped and cannot stop Iran's nuclear progress. Additional sanctions have little chance of extracting further concessions from Iran in the future, would likely prompt Iran to take escalatory steps, and could blow up the diplomatic process.

As the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and the European Union wrote in The Washington Post January 21, "... introducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture."

To enhance Iran's incentive to meet its nonproliferation obligations under a comprehensive agreement, the two sides agree that the P5+1 will phase out and later remove nuclear-related sanctions as Iran meets its obligations under the deal, and the IAEA investigation of Iran's nuclear program is concluded.  

If Iran fails to meet its core obligations, key sanctions measures could be swiftly re-imposed by the president and, if necessary, by Congress.

More Pressure Will Not Lead Iran to Abandon Its Program

Some members of Congress, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, erroneously suggest that the only way to block Iran's path to nuclear weapons is to secure an agreement that requires Iran to abandon key elements of its nuclear program, including its enrichment facilities and its Arak heavy water reactor project.

Such an outcome would be ideal from a nonproliferation standpoint, but it is unrealistic to expect that Iran's leadership would accept such terms, even under the tougher sanctions pressure, as some members of Congress and Netanyahu are now advocating.

As former U.S. nuclear negotiator Robert J. Einhorn said in January testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, "... no one who closely follows Iran and its domestic politics believes that it is achievable, whatever pressures we are able to bring to bear.

"Iranian leaders," Einhorn said, "have successfully convinced their public that an enrichment capability is an inalienable right, an essential component of a respectable civil nuclear program, and a source of national pride - and that giving it up in the face of Western pressure would be a national humiliation. No one across the Iranian political spectrum, even those who strongly want a deal, would be prepared to accept an outcome banning enrichment and dismantling nuclear facilities."

Moreover, as Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken said in a Senate hearing January 21, as a practical matter

... the problem is that Iran has mastered the fuel cycle, whether we like it or not. We can't bomb that away, we can't sanction that away, we can't argue that away. They have that knowledge.

The real question is not whether they have any enrichment capacity. The real question is whether it is so limited, so constrained, so confined, so transparent, that as a practical matter, they cannot develop enough fissile material for a bomb without us having the time to see it and to do something about it. That is the practical test.

Now in an ideal world, would we want them to have zero enrichment? Sure. Is that something they will ever agree to? I think the answer is probably not, in fact. And second, our partners are unlikely to stick around in terms of implementing the sanctions regime if that has to be the bottom-line test.

The complete dismantlement of Iran's uranium-enrichment program also goes against the broad parameters for a comprehensive deal outlined in the Nov. 2013 interim agreement, which recognized that under a long-term agreement, Iran would have a limited enrichment program based on its "practical needs."

If the P5+1, or members of Congress, tried to hold out for dismantlement of Iran's uranium-enrichment facilities, Iran would not agree, negotiations would break down, and Iran would resume efforts to increase its uranium-enrichment capacity.   

If the Congress initiates action on new sanctions against Iran while the interim agreement is still in force, it would violate the terms of the successful Nov. 2013 interim nuclear agreement and prompt Iran to take escalatory steps.  

Toward a Sober Evaluation of the Alternatives

The goal of a verifiable, comprehensive agreement must be to limit Iran's capacity to amass enough fissile material for nuclear weapons and to strengthen oversight and transparency to ensure prompt detection of any effort-even a clandestine attempt-to build nuclear weapons. Phased sanctions relief is critical to providing Iran with the political and economic incentives for continued compliance with the agreement well into the future.

In the final analysis, serious policymakers in Washington and other capitals must consider whether their country is better off with an effective comprehensive nuclear agreement-or the continued pursuit of an effective deal-than without one.

They must consider the results of failing to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

  • There would be no constraints on Iran's enrichment capacity. Iran could resume enriching uranium to higher levels and increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium. The time required for Iran to produce enough material for nuclear weapons would decrease.
  • Inspections of Iranian facilities would likely continue, but would not be expanded to cover undeclared sites and activities, which would be the most likely pathway to build nuclear weapons if Iran chose to do so.
  • Sanctions would remain in effect, and some might be strengthened. Sanctions alone, however, cannot halt Iran's nuclear progress. Eventually, the willingness of international allies to help implement those sanctions could erode.

Although Iran would still have to overcome significant hurdles to try to build nuclear weapons, such an effort would likely increase the possibility over time of a military confrontation.  

Yet, even Israeli leaders know that military strikes are not a solution. Such an attack would only delay, not destroy, Iran's nuclear program and, at worst, would lead to a wider conflict that could push Iran to openly pursue nuclear weapons. Israel would be far less secure.

Some say, "no deal is better than a bad deal." But it is clear that a good deal is better than no deal, and such a deal is within reach.--DARYL G. KIMBALL

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

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Posted: December 31, 1969

P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, January 27

Negotiators from the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the U.K., and the United States, plus Germany) and Iran are stepping up the pace of their talks on a long-term formula to verifiably limit Iran's nuclear capacity in exchange for phased sanctions relief. Less than a week after the P5+1 and Iranian negotiating teams concluded several days of meetings in Geneva on Jan. 18, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and European Union Political Director Helga Schmid met again with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi on January 23 and 24 in Zurich, Switzerland. The P5+1 and Iranian political...

Iran Nuclear Negotiations: Separating Myth from Reality

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This issue brief seeks to dispel some of the most commonly held and articulated misconceptions about Iran's nuclear activities and the negotiations.

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Volume 7, Issue 2, January 23, 2015 

As the United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners (China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom) move closer to a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, myths and misperceptions about Iran's nuclear program, its intentions, and U.S. policy goals in the negotiations cloud discussion of this important international security priority.  

An effective, verifiable comprehensive nuclear agreement is in the best interest of the U.S. national security and the stability of the Middle East. Such an important issue deserves discussion and debate based on facts, not myths.  

This issue brief seeks to dispel some of the most commonly held and articulated misconceptions about Iran's nuclear activities and the negotiations.

Iran's Nuclear Program

MYTH: Iran is pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program.

REALITY: According to evidence collected by and shared with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program, but abandoned it in 2003. These activities are referred to as the "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear program and are actively being investigated by the IAEA. This corresponds with the assessment from the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program, which also stated with moderate confidence that Iran had not restarted its nuclear program. In the 2014 Worldwide Threat Assessment, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also said that Iran also would not be able to divert safeguarded nuclear material and enrich enough to weapons grade for a bomb without discovery. 

According to a 2011 IAEA report, activities that could be relevant to nuclear weapons development may have continued after 2003, but not as part of an organized program.

MYTH: Iran is developing long-range ballistic missiles that could be armed with nuclear warheads.  

REALITY: The U.S. intelligence community assess that Iran may be technically capable of developing an ICBM with sufficient foreign assistance, not that they are doing so. To date, Iran has never tested any long-range rockets. Iran's longest-range missiles (2,000 kilometers) are medium-range ballistic missiles, not intercontinental-range missiles, as some have suggested. Iran would need an ICBM with a range of over 9,000 kilometers to reach the United States. Experts assess that even if Iran makes a concerted effort, deploying such a missile within the decade is unlikely. Additionally, if a comprehensive nuclear deal blocks Iran's potential pathways to a bomb, its ballistic missiles become less of a threat, because they cannot be armed with a nuclear weapon. 

MYTH: UN Security Council resolutions require Iran to permanently halt enrichment, dismantle its enrichment facilities, and dismantle the heavy water reactor at Arak.

REALITY: Since July 2006, the Security Council has passed six resolutions calling on Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities and work on the heavy-water reactor at Arak. None of the six resolutions passed by the UN Security Council called for Iran to dismantle its enrichment facilities or permanently halt enrichment.  The call for suspension was intended to push Iran to comply with the IAEA investigation into concerns about past activities possibly related to nuclear weapons development, and to promote a diplomatic resolution to the concerns over Iran's nuclear program.

During debate on the most recent resolution in June 2010, British Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant, speaking on behalf of the P5+1, said the resolution was intended to keep "the door open for continued engagement" with Iran over its nuclear program. He said that the purpose of such diplomatic efforts must be to achieve a comprehensive, long-term settlement, that respects Iran's legitimate right to the peaceful use of atomic energy. The Security Council resolutions were never intended to eliminate an Iranian civil nuclear program in the future that complies with the conditions of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

MYTH: Iran is just using the negotiations to buy more time to advance its nuclear program and nuclear weapons-related capabilities.  

REALITY: This argument may have been valid before the November 2013 interim agreement, but not now. The interim agreement has pushed Iran further away from a nuclear weapons capability by halting Iran's progress on nuclear projects of greatest proliferation concern-thus buying time to negotiate a comprehensive, long-term agreement to block Iran's potential pathways to the bomb.

Furthermore, according to April 2013 testimony from James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, Iran could not divert nuclear material and enrich enough weapons grade material for a bomb without being detected. The additional monitoring and verification measures put in place under the November 2013 interim agreement, including daily access to Iran's uranium-enrichment sites and caps on stockpiles of enriched-uranium gas, bars uranium enrichment beyond 5% uranium-235 (weapons-grade is 90%) and the introduction of additional uranium centrifuge machines, all of which provide additional assurances that Iran is not pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program.

MYTH: Iran needs a large-scale uranium-enrichment program to provide for its nuclear energy needs.

REALITY: Iran's current, practical needs for enriched uranium are very limited and will remain so over the next several years. There is no practical reason for Iran not to be able to reduce its uranium-enrichment capacity in the near-term in order to build confidence it is not seeking an option to build nuclear weapons.

Iran is currently operating about 10,200 first-generation IR-1 operating centrifuges, which exceeds its current needs. Iran also has approximately 9,000 more centrifuges that are installed but are not yet operating, including some 1,000 more advanced IR2-M machines.

However, Iran says it cannot afford to reduce that number because it wants to increase its enrichment capacity significantly by the 2020s. Iran points to its hopes for building new nuclear power reactors and says it wants to be able to eventually produce fuel for its one operating light-water reactor at Bushehr, which would require the equivalent of over 100,000 IR-1 machines.

Currently, Bushehr uses fuel provided by Russia under a 10-year deal that could be extended past its 2021 end date. In fact, Russia is obliged to supply fuel unless Iran chooses not to renew the contract--which would be a foolish move given the fact that Iran does not currently have the technical capacity to fabricate fuel for the reactor. A new deal with Russia for two additional reactors at the Bushehr site will be fueled by Russia for their duration, thus not requiring domestically produced Iranian fuel.

Impact of the Joint Plan of Action

MYTH: The interim agreement, or Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), has not stopped advances in Iran's nuclear program.

REALITY: Implementation of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action has halted the expansion of Iran's nuclear program and rolled back the most proliferation sensitive elements.  

In total, under the Joint Plan of Action, Iran has stopped enriching uranium to 20 percent, a key proliferation concern to the P5+1 because 20 percent enriched material is more easily enriched to weapons-grade material (greater than 90 percent U-235).  

Over the past twelve months, Iran also took steps to neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched-uranium gas. Iran also halted major construction activities on its Arak heavy-water reactor project, froze the number of its operating and installed centrifuges, and agreed to more intrusive inspections, including daily access to its enrichment facilities. Iran also agreed only to produce centrifuges necessary to replace damaged machines.

MYTH: Iran has violated the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action by operating an advanced centrifuge, the IR-5.

REALITY: The IAEA's quarterly report of Nov. 7, 2014, noted that Iran began feeding natural uranium hexafluoride "intermittently" into a single IR-5 centrifuge at its pilot facility for the first time. While unhelpful, this does not appear to be a violation of the Joint Plan of Action, which prohibits the use of advanced centrifuges to accumulate enriched uranium. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Nov. 24, 2014 that both Iran and the P5+1 have upheld their commitments under the interim deal. However, to dispel any ambiguities, in the extension agreed to on Nov. 24 , 2014, Iran agreed not to feed the IR-5 at this time.  

MYTH: Allowing Iran an enrichment program recognizes a "right to enrich" under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which the United States has long opposed.  

REALITY: While the NPT clearly affords non-nuclear weapons states access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes in return for pledging not to pursue nuclear weapons and having IAEA safeguards in place, it does not specifically afford or deny enrichment and reprocessing rights to member states. Iran interprets the treaty to include a "right to enrich" and has insisted that its right to enrichment be "respected" under a nuclear agreement.

The U.S. policy does not recognizes a "right to enrich" under the NPT. In the interim agreement, the United States and its P5+1 partners acknowledged that Iran has an enrichment program and will retain a limited enrichment program in a comprehensive deal commensurate with its "practical needs."  

Acknowledging that a program exists is not the same as acknowledging that a treaty affords a "right." The United States has done the former, not the latter. And, after reaching the agreement last November, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that U.S. policy remains unchanged by the agreement. In an interview with ABC he adamantly said, "there is no inherent right to enrich."

Sanctions 

MYTH: New sanctions that go into effect after the negotiation deadline are not a violation of the interim deal.

REALITY: Even if new sanctions do not go into effect until after the June 30, 2015 deadline for negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, they would still violate the November 2013 interim deal. In that agreement, the United States committed not to initiate any new nuclear-related sanctions on Iran during the talks.  

In a January 16, 2015 press conference, President Barack Obama asked Congress to hold off on new sanctions, saying that they would "jeopardize the possibility" of a nuclear deal. Iran made clear last year that it would interpret such a move as a violation of the Joint Plan of Action.  

Additionally, new sanctions risk fracturing the international coalition supporting sanctions, which is instrumental to maintaining pressure on Iran. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power noted on January 12, 2015, that "if we pull the trigger on new nuclear-related sanctions now, we will go from isolating Iran to potentially isolating ourselves.

MYTH: Additional sanctions will pressure Iran into dismantling its nuclear program.

REALITY: The international sanctions regime helped push Iran toward the negotiating table. Increasing sanctions at this time, however, violates the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action and risks pushing Iran toward escalatory measures and away from the negotiating table. Moving forward on any sanctions bill will give the hardliners in Iran considerable ammunition to assert that the United States is not following through on its commitments in the Joint Plan of Action and will not negotiate a comprehensive agreement in good faith. This could narrow the space that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has to negotiate a final deal even further.

New sanctions could also cause Iran to pull out of the negotiations. Iran made clear last year that it would interpret such a move as a violation of the Joint Plan of Action. Iran's Foreign Minister and lead negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif said  that a "deal is dead" if the United States imposes more sanctions, even if they do not go into effect during the negotiations.

While complete dismantlement of Iran's nuclear program may have been the most ideal end-state, and possible a decade ago when Iran only had several hundred centrifuges, it is unrealistic and unnecessary. A final deal with stringent limits and intrusive monitoring and verification will guard against a nuclear-armed Iran and ensure that there is no covert program. Insisting on complete dismantlement of Iran's uranium-enrichment program also goes against the broad parameters for a comprehensive deal outlined in the Nov. 2013 interim agreement, which recognized that under a long-term agreement, Iran would have a limited enrichment program based on its "practical needs."

Negotiations on Comprehensive Nuclear Deal with Iran

MYTH: A comprehensive deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons using a covert program.

REALITY: A comprehensive agreement will block Iran's uranium and plutonium pathways to the bomb. Among other features, the agreement will set verifiable limits on Iran's uranium-enrichment capacity and its stockpiles of enriched uranium. It would also dramatically cut the output of weapons-usable plutonium at the Arak heavy-water reactor. U.S. negotiators have stated that an acceptable final deal will push the time it would take Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb to 12 months.

A comprehensive deal also would put in place additional measures to ensure that any covert program is deterred or quickly detected. The additional monitoring and verification under the interim agreement has already dramatically expanded international oversight of Iran's nuclear program through increased IAEA access to sites. A comprehensive deal will provide additional monitoring and verification.

In addition, Iran has agreed to implement and ratify the additional protocol as part of a comprehensive deal. Specifically, it gives the IAEA expanded right of access to information and sites. With the additional protocol, the agency will have regular access to Iran's entire fuel cycle, including facilities such as Iran's uranium mines, centrifuge production facilities, and heavy-water production plant. This will make it far more difficult for Iran to siphon off materials for a covert program.

The additional protocol also helps the IAEA check for any clandestine nuclear activities in Iran by providing the agency with greater authority to carry out inspections in any facility with nuclear material. It also enables the agency to visit the nuclear facilities on short notice, making it more difficult to cover-up any activities intended to divert materials or that are inconsistent with a facilities' stated purposes.

MYTH: Iran needs to provide the IAEA with information about its past activities possibly related to nuclear weapons development before a comprehensive agreement is negotiated.

REALITY: 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 past military dimensions, in a step-by-step manner. Iran has provided the IAEA with information on 16 areas to date, but is behind on turning over information on two past military dimension issues. Tying a comprehensive nuclear agreement to a resolution of the IAEA's investigation into the past activities is unnecessary and risks derailing a deal.

Resolving the questions about the past military dimension 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. 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.

Both sides understand that the IAEA investigation of past Iranian activities with possible military dimensions will continue after a comprehensive nuclear agreement is reached. At the same time, all sanctions tied to this particular issue should not be removed unless the questions are adequately resolved. This makes it more likely that if there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement, Iran will have a stronger incentive to provide the IAEA with the information necessary to determine that no such efforts are taking place now or will in the future.

MYTH: A nuclear deal with Iran, like a treaty or a "123" Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, requires Congressional approval.  

REALITY: Unlike a treaty, which requires the support of two-thirds of the Senate, a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran does not require a vote of approval from Congress. Unlike a civil nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and another country, a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran will be a political agreement between the five-permanent members of the UN Security Council and Iran designed to induce Iran to meet goals and obligations established by the Security Council and through Iran's safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

Over time, Congress will, however, have a vital role in implementing a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, including legislative action to remove and/or not renew legislatively-mandated, nuclear-related sanctions on Iran if and when Iran fulfils key non-proliferation obligations called for in a comprehensive agreement.

MYTH: A nuclear deal that allows Iran uranium enrichment and civilian nuclear power program will cause a proliferation cascade in the Middle East, with countries like Saudi Arabia deciding to move toward nuclear weapons.

REALITY: A verifiable, comprehensive nuclear deal will impose strict limits and monitoring on Iran's nuclear program, thus reducing the risk that Iran may someday pursue nuclear weapons. This will provide assurance to the international community that Tehran is not seeking nuclear weapons and that any deviations from the deal will be quickly noticed. This should reduce, not increase, the temptation by some states in the Middle East-particularly Saudi Arabia-to pursue the technical capabilities necessary to acquire nuclear weapons.

The alternative--no comprehensive P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal--would lead to an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program with less monitoring. This poses more of a threat to countries in the region and could increase the possibility of a "proliferation cascade" in the region.

MYTH: A good comprehensive deal with Iran must dismantle Iran's nuclear weapons capability.

REALITY: Iran has had a nuclear weapons capability, but has chosen not to develop nuclear weapons. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessed that Iran has developed a range of technologies, including uranium enrichment, nuclear warhead mechanics, and delivery systems, that would give it the option to launch a nuclear weapons development effort in a relatively short time frame "if it so chooses." Eliminating that capability is, for all practical purposes, not possible. Even if Iran completely "dismantled" its nuclear infrastructure, it could rebuild it. Tougher sanctions or a military strike also will not eliminate the knowledge and basic industrial capacity that Iran has developed and could rebuild.  

Ergo, the goal of a verifiable, comprehensive agreement must be to prevent Iran from exercising that capability by limiting and constraining its nuclear capacity (especially fissile material production) and by increasing transparency over its program. Phased sanctions relief also offers incentives for continued compliance to comply with the deal and not decide to build a nuclear weapon in the future.

Conclusion

U.S. negotiators have an historic opportunity to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran that limits its nuclear program, blocks its pathways to a bomb, and guards against covert activities. The gravity of the situation demands a discussion on a comprehensive nuclear deal that is based on the realities of Iran's nuclear program, not myths and misconceptions about Tehran's past and current activities.--KELSEY DAVENPORT, DIRECTOR OF NONPROLIFERATION POLICY

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

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Posted: December 31, 1969

Congress Should Support Negotiations, Not New Iran Sanctions

Description: 

The United States has an historic opportunity to limit Iran's nuclear program, block its pathways to the bomb, and guard against a covert nuclear weapons program.

Body: 

Volume 7, Issue 1, January 15, 2015 

The United States has an historic opportunity to limit Iran’s nuclear program, block its pathways to the bomb, and guard against a covert nuclear weapons program.

Congressional action on sanctions at this time, however, threatens the significant progress made over the past year by the United States, its allies, and Iran toward a comprehensive nuclear deal.

Moving forward on new sanctions legislation against Iran threatens to derail negotiations, push Iran away from the negotiating table, and erode international support for the sanctions regime currently in place.

Contrary to the claims of sanctions proponents, any new nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran at this time would violate the terms of the first-phase deal that the United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners (China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom) committed to in the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action.

In addition, a bill might place new and unrealistic requirements on the comprehensive agreement that the parties are currently negotiating. Efforts by the U.S. Congress to move the goalposts for the final phase negotiations beyond the parameters already established by the P5+1 would undermine prospects for a final phase agreement.

A comprehensive nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran is the only effective way to limit Iran's nuclear program and ensure that it is entirely peaceful. Rather than sabotaging the progress made to date and undermining the prospects for a more far-reaching final phase deal, the Congress should allow the P5+1 negotiators the time and support necessary to negotiate an effective diplomatic solution.

Sanctions Violate the Interim Deal

Several members of Congress are drafting new sanctions legislation. If approved, these sanctions would directly violate the United States commitment to "refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions" under the November 24, 2013 interim agreement

The most imminent sanctions bill will be considered before the Senate Banking Committee on Jan. 20 and marked-up later in the week. Its primary authors, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), introduced a sanctions bill in December 2013, S. 1881, which, if passed, would have derailed the talks and the progress generated under the interim deal--which has halted the most worrisome aspects of Iran’s nuclear program and rolled back key elements.

Proponents of additional sanctions at this time claim that these measures will not go into effect until negotiations breakdown and that the possibility of additional sanctions pressure will keep Iran at the negotiating table.

However, passing new sanctions while talks are ongoing risks shattering the carefully built international coalition pressuring Iran to remain at the negotiating table.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said on Jan. 12 that the administration opposes new sanctions at this time, noting that "if we pull the trigger on new nuclear-related sanctions now, we will go from isolating Iran to potentially isolating ourselves."

If Washington passes sanctions now, the United States would be blamed for any breakdown of the talks, and other countries may resume trade with Iran. That would dramatically reduce U.S. leverage and the prospects for a diplomatic solution.

Even if sanctions were designed not go into effect immediately, and are “triggered” by an event such as the breakdown of talks, they would directly contradict the terms of the Joint Plan of Action. Triggered sanctions that depend on a “breakdown” also would require a subjective determination of what constitutes a breakdown in the talks.

Elizabeth Rosenberg, a former senior advisor the U.S. Department of Treasury, said at an Arms Control Association-Carnegie event on Dec. 3 that triggered sanctions send the wrong message to Iran. Rosenberg, now at the Center for a New American Security, said that sanctions at this time “... will be seen as an act of bad faith in Iran on the part of the U.S. and a sign that the U.S. negotiating team will not be able to deliver what it promises and that it won’t be able to successfully coordinate with Congress.”  

Rosenberg also said that “Iranians may not believe that Congress won’t change the goal posts again” when it comes time to lift sanctions when Iran takes particular actions in the event of a comprehensive agreement.

More Pressure Will Not Help

Some members of Congress, however, mistakenly believe that additional economic pressure at this time will push Iran to make further concessions at the negotiating table.

Kirk said on Jan. 4, “now is the time to put pressure on Iran especially with oil prices so low. We are uniquely advantaged at this time to shut down this nuclear program.”

This reasoning is illogical and incorrect for several reasons.

From a negotiating perspective, moving forward on any sanctions bill will give the hardliners in Iran considerable ammunition to assert that the United States is not following through on its commitments in the Joint Plan of Action and will not negotiate a comprehensive agreement in good faith. This could narrow the space that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has to negotiate a final deal even further.

New sanctions could also cause Iran to pull out of the negotiations. Iran made clear last year that it would interpret such a move as a violation of the Joint Plan of Action. Iran's Foreign Minister and lead negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif said that a "deal is dead" if the United States imposes more sanctions, even if they do not go into effect during the negotiations.

However, for some members of Congress, the purpose of passing new sanctions is to end negotiations. Sen.Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on Jan. 13 “the end of these negotiations isn't an unintended consequence of congressional action. It is very much an intended consequence, a feature, not a bug, so to speak."

Rejecting a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran before it is reached is irresponsible and dangerous. If the United States violates the interim agreement and talks fail, Iran is likely to also move down the path of escalation.

In December 2013, after Menendez and Kirk released the text of their sanctions bill, S. 1881, Iran drafted a law that would require Tehran to increase its uranium enrichment to 60 percent. One Iranian lawmaker said it was in response to “America’s hostile act.” While short of the 90 percent required for weapons-grade uranium, 60 percent puts Iran considerably closer than the five percent cap Tehran agreed to under the interim agreement.

The only way to block Iran’s pathways to the bomb, limit its nuclear activities, and put in place sufficiently intrusive monitoring to promptly detect a dash to the bomb is through a comprehensive nuclear deal. A return to the pre-interim agreement status quo of Iran’s steadily increasing nuclear capabilities with less international monitoring threatens U.S. and international security.  

Onerous and Unrealistic Conditions

Sanctions legislation in the past has also sought to put onerous and unnecessary constraints on the terms of a final deal. S. 1881, for instance, contained provisions that prevented sanctions relief unless Iran agreed to zero-enrichment and complete dismantlement of its "illicit nuclear infrastructure," which presumably would include Iran's uranium-enrichment facilities and the heavy-water reactor project at Arak.

Not only are these demands unrealistic and unnecessary to guard against a nuclear weapons program, they also contradict the broad parameters laid out in the November 2013 interim agreement. The interim deal states that Iran will have a limited uranium-enrichment program based on its “practical needs.”

Demanding complete dismantlement or zero enrichment may have been conceivable a decade ago when Iran only had a few hundred centrifuges. But today, demands that Iran permanently halt uranium enrichment are unrealistic and unattainable. A deal that bars Iran from enriching uranium for peaceful purposes would be unsustainable politically inside Iran. Additionally, such an outcome is not necessary.

The agreement that the negotiators from the United States, France, the U.K. Germany, France, China and Russia are now pursuing would dramatically increase the time it would take to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb and put in place new international monitoring mechanisms to ensure compliance and to promptly detect a clandestine nuclear weapons effort.

Bottom Line

Contrary to the claims of proponents, legislation that imposes new sanctions on Iran would undermine, not enhance, the diplomatic effort to secure a comprehensive nuclear deal to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

New, additional sanctions on Iran are clearly unnecessary at this time. The existing sanctions regime provides more than sufficient leverage on Iran to keep it at the negotiating table.

To date, both the P5+1 and Iran have abided by their commitments under the interim agreement known as the Joint Plan of Action. The enactment of additional sanctions would violate the commitment made by the United States in the interim agreement and could push Iran take escalatory steps of its own or pull out of the negotiations.  

If the International Atomic Energy Agency determines in the future that Iran is not fulfilling its commitments under the interim agreement, the Congress would still have the option to act quickly, and if necessary enact new sanctions. But as long as Iran and the P5+1 are holding up their ends of the agreement and a comprehensive deal is possible, Congress should support, not sabotage, the talks. --KELSEY DAVENPORT, DIRECTOR FOR NONPROLIFERATION POLICY

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Posted: December 31, 1969

Iran, P5+1 Continue Talks in Geneva

At a December conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, many delegates emphasized that “humanitarian considerations should…be at the core of all nuclear disarmament deliberations.”

January/February 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Iran and six world powers met in Geneva in December to continue talks on a comprehensive nuclear agreement, marking the first round of meetings after the parties decided to extend the negotiations.

When Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) agreed on Nov. 24 to extend the talks, they set a goal of reaching a political agreement within four months. (See ACT, December 2014.) The parties aim to complete the technical annexes by June 30.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters on Dec. 17 that the talks earlier that day had taken place in a “good atmosphere” and that “good steps” were taken. Zarif, who leads Iran’s negotiating team, said that “the world needs this agreement” in light of global challenges, and that reaching a deal is in the best interest of both parties.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Moscow on Dec. 18 that the parties are “very close” to reaching a deal.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi speaks to reporters in Geneva on December 17, 2014, before his delegation met with representatives of six world powers in the most recent round of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)Before the talks between Iran and the P5+1, the United States and Iran met bilaterally Dec. 15-16 in Geneva.

Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and a member of the negotiating team, said that sanctions were a focus of the meetings with the United States but that “all topics” were discussed.

The talks are scheduled to resume Jan. 18 in Geneva.

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, but the international community is concerned that Tehran could use its program to develop nuclear weapons.

New Sanctions

In a Dec. 4 interview with PBS, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that Congress should act cautiously on new legislation directed against Iran.

Corker, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Congress does not want to feel “responsible for this deal falling apart” but that the new Congress will be looking for “an appropriate way” to have a say in the negotiations in 2015.

In the last Congress, lawmakers introduced several bills dealing with sanctions on Iran. One of the bills, drafted by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), would impose additional sanctions on Iran if Tehran failed to comply with the terms of the interim agreement or if a comprehensive deal is not reached. It is not clear which of the bills will be reintroduced during the new Congress.

Corker said its “hard to understand” how the Menendez-Kirk legislation would be a problem for the negotiations.
Under the terms of the interim agreement that Iran and the P5+1 reached in November 2013, the United States agreed not to impose any additional nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. In return for limited sanctions relief and the pledge of no additional sanctions, Iran halted expansion of its nuclear program and stopped certain nuclear activities. When Iran and the P5+1 did not reach a comprehensive deal within the one-year time frame of the interim agreement, the parties agreed to extend the commitments through June 30 of this year.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Vienna on Nov. 24 that he hoped Congress would “see the wisdom of leaving us the equilibrium for a few months to be able to proceed without sending messages that might be misinterpreted and cause miscalculation.”

Terms of the Extension

In a Nov. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, an official close to the negotiations said that, under the terms of the extension, Iran and the P5+1 agreed to obligations beyond those in the interim agreement.

The P5+1 and Iran have not made any public reference to the specific elements of the new obligations.
According to the official’s e-mail, Iran will be able to gain access to $700 million of its funds frozen in accounts overseas each month through June 30.

Iran committed to continue feeding 35 kilograms of its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium oxide powder into a process for making fuel plates, the official said. The fuel plates are to be used for the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes, he said.

Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium gas was a key concern for the P5+1 because uranium enriched to that level is more easily enriched further to weapons grade. Under the interim agreement, Tehran has taken steps to neutralize its stockpile by diluting half of the stockpile to a level of less than 5 percent-enriched uranium and converting the other half into an oxide powder form for fuel plate fabrication.

Iran committed not to convert the uranium oxide powder back into gas as part of the interim deal.

Under the terms of the extension, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors are able to visit Iran’s centrifuge production workshops on a more regular basis and with little notice.

In addition, Iran pledged to refrain from pursuing enrichment using other technologies, such as lasers. Iran is known to have experimented with laser enrichment in the past. As part of a separate agreement with the IAEA, Iran provided inspectors with access to its laser center and information about its laser enrichment program last year.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement on the status of the talks on Iran’s nuclear program in Vienna on November 24, 2014. (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)According to the official close to the talks, Iran and the P5+1 spelled out the limits to Iran’s research and development activities to clarify ambiguities about permitted activities under the interim agreement after a controversy in November.

In a Nov. 7 report, the IAEA noted that Iran was feeding natural uranium gas into one of its advanced centrifuge models, the IR-5, for the first time. The IR-5 was installed, but was not being tested with uranium gas at the time that the interim deal was reached. According to the agreement, Iran could continue its current research and development practices during the negotiations on a comprehensive accord.

Iran and some members of the P5+1 disagreed about whether testing the IR-5 with uranium was an existing practice or a new practice. Tehran said the action was permitted under the interim agreement.

The State Department did not say last November whether the United States viewed the testing as a violation, but said that Washington had raised the concern with Tehran and that Iran had agreed to stop testing the centrifuge.

The additional research and development restrictions under the extension specifically prohibit testing of the IR-5 centrifuge with uranium hexafluoride gas.

Iran said it would not test the IR-6 centrifuges in a cascade formation or the IR-2M. Iran also agreed not to continue installation of an IR-8 centrifuge that is partially installed at the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant. The IAEA noted in its quarterly reports that Iran began installing the IR-8 centrifuge in December 2013.

Iran is working on advanced centrifuges to replace its current operating centrifuge, the IR-1. The advanced machines would likely enrich uranium more efficiently than the IR-1 machines.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Nuclear Impact Meeting Is Largest Yet

At a December conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, many delegates emphasized that “humanitarian considerations should…be at the core of all nuclear disarmament deliberations.”

January/February 2015

By Kingston Reif

A December conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use attracted more participants and included a broader focus than the previous two meetings on the issue, with many delegates emphasizing “that humanitarian considerations should no longer be ignored but be at the core of all nuclear disarmament deliberations,” according to the chair’s summary of the meeting.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz speaks on December 8, 2014, in Vienna at the third international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use. (Samuel Kubani/AFP/Getty Images)The Dec. 8-9 meeting at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna drew delegations representing 158 states, the United Nations, and academia.­­­

For the first time in the series of conferences on nuclear weapons use, the list of participants included countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—the United Kingdom and the United States. In addition, an unofficial representative from China attended the meeting. Two other nuclear-armed states, India and Pakistan, took part in the previous two meetings and also were present in Vienna.

Previous conferences had focused primarily on the consequences of nuclear weapons explosions, but the Vienna meeting expanded the agenda to include the risk of nuclear weapons use, the application of international law to the consequences of nuclear weapons explosions, and the shortfalls in international capacity to address a humanitarian emergency caused by the use of nuclear weapons.

The meeting included presentations from experts on the factors that could lead to the deliberate or inadvertent use of nuclear weapons and the relevance of international environmental and health law to nuclear weapons use.

“The scope, scale and interrelationship of the humanitarian consequences caused by nuclear weapon detonation are catastrophic and more complex than commonly understood,” concluded Alexander Kmentt, conference chair and director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation in the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, in his summary delivered at the end of the conference.

The Vienna conference was the third meeting in the past two years focused on the medical and societal impact of nuclear weapons use. The first meeting took place in March 2013 in Oslo and brought together representatives from 127 governments. Delegations from 146 governments attended the second conference, held in Nayarit, Mexico, in February 2014. (See ACT, November 2014.)

The Catholic Church used the occasion of the December conference to revise its long-standing position on nuclear deterrence, stating that “reliance on a strategy of nuclear deterrence has created a less secure world” (see box).

The Vienna conference and the two that preceded it reflect the growing impatience of many non-nuclear-weapon states with what they characterize as the slow pace of progress toward nuclear disarmament.

But unlike the conference summary statement delivered by host Mexico at Nayarit, the Austrian chair’s statement did not call for the initiation of a diplomatic process to ban nuclear weapons. Instead, Kmentt noted that state delegations “expressed various views regarding the ways and means of advancing the nuclear disarmament agenda.”

In a separate statement, Austria called on all NPT members “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons” and promised “to cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal.” Unlike the treaties prohibiting even the possession of chemical and biological weapons, there is no such legal ban on nuclear weapons.

The U.S. statement, delivered by Adam Scheinman, President Barack Obama’s special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, alluded to “the growing political will to pursue a practical disarmament agenda,” but advised that there must be “a practical way to do it.”

In remarks delivered at the Brookings Institution on Dec. 18, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that “[w]hile we acknowledge the views of those who call for the negotiation of a nuclear weapons ban treaty, the United States cannot and will not support efforts of this sort.”

Many non-nuclear-weapon states that are close allies of the United States expressed similar sentiments at the Vienna conference. “Prospects for disarmament are enhanced by engaging, not alienating, those states that will need to take the action to disarm,” Australia said in its statement.

In a Dec. 22 e-mail, Kmentt told Arms Control Today that the Vienna meeting “established the humanitarian focus” as the “mainstream” view and the context in which “the vast majority of states wish to discuss the nuclear weapons issue.” If nuclear weapons are used, “no capacity exists to deal adequately with the consequences,” he said. “These arguments and findings make the insistence on nuclear weapons as a necessary security tool for possessor States untenable.”

Kmentt added that this majority of states will expect the upcoming NPT review conference, to be held in New York later this year, “to give clear answers to address” the findings and conclusions of the Vienna conference “and point a credible way towards the implementation” of Article VI of the NPT. That article commits the nuclear-weapon states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race” and “to nuclear disarmament.”

In a Dec. 23 interview, Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, director of the International Organizations and Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said that the conversation on the humanitarian aspect promises to be “a central theme” of the review conference. She said she expected that many countries would make a strong push to ensure that the findings and conclusions of the Vienna meeting are reflected in the review conference’s final document, if there is one.

It is unclear whether there will be a fourth conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and, if so, what the final result of the process will be. In his Dec. 22 e-mail, Kmentt said that no country had offered to host another meeting.

The focus for NPT states is “to achieve progress within the NPT framework” and “see what happens at the Review Conference,” he said. That is certainly Austria’s objective for the conference, he said.

Vatican Revises Stance on Deterrence

The Catholic Church revised its long-standing position on nuclear deterrence in December, declaring that the possession and use of nuclear weapons are not acceptable.

At a Dec. 8-9 conference in Vienna on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, the Vatican’s UN ambassador in Geneva, delivered the Vatican’s statement. He said the “reliance on a strategy of nuclear deterrence has created a less secure world,” and called for all countries to review deterrence as a “stable basis for peace.”

The Catholic Church has consistently advocated for the abolition of nuclear weapons, but its original position on deterrence, laid out in the 1963 papal encyclical Pacem in Terris, stated that a minimal nuclear capability to deter a nuclear attack is acceptable as an interim ethic until disarmament is achieved.

Although that position might have been acceptable during the Cold War, the current pace of disarmament is too slow and the status quo is “unsustainable and undesirable,” Tomasi said. The argument that nuclear weapons prevent war is “misleading,” he said.

Nuclear deterrence “works less as a stabilizing force” in a multipolar world and serves as an incentive for countries to break out of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and develop nuclear weapons, he said. In addition, the threat of accidental use or theft of the weapons has become too high, Tomasi said.

In a Dec. 8 document, “Nuclear Disarmament: Time for Abolition,” prepared for the Vienna conference, the Vatican laid out in greater detail its reasoning for moving away from limited deterrence. In addition to calling on all states possessing nuclear weapons to increase the pace of disarmament, the document called for an examination of the rationale for nuclear deterrence.

In a Dec. 7 letter to the conference president, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, Pope Francis said that “nuclear detterence and the threat of mutually assured destruction” cannot be the basis of “fraternity” and “peaceful coexistence amongst peoples and states.”

The Vatican document cited several factors that influenced the Vatican’s revised position on deterrence, including the “illusion of security” from nuclear weapons, the high costs of arsenal maintenance, and the lack of transparency and oversight of the disarmament process. The Vatican proposed that states examine these factors in further detail to question the “moral legitimacy of the architecture of the ‘peace of a sort’ supposedly provided by deterrence.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    Time to Close the Iran Deal

    The failure of Iran and the six-country group known as the P5+1 to bridge their differences on a comprehensive nuclear agreement by their November 2014 target date is disappointing.

    January/February 2015

    By Daryl G. Kimball

    The failure of Iran and the six-country group known as the P5+1 to bridge their differences on a comprehensive nuclear agreement by their November 2014 target date is disappointing. Nevertheless, a historic agreement to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran is attainable within the next several weeks and certainly before their new July deadline.

    The agreement would block Iran’s major potential pathways to nuclear weapons development—the uranium-enrichment route and the plutonium-separation route—guard against a clandestine weapons program, and remove a major threat to international security. To get to “yes,” the two sides must act with renewed determination, and Iran in particular must demonstrate greater flexibility on key issues.

    There is no time to waste. Some members of the new, Republican-led Congress are threatening to advance new Iran sanctions legislation and set unrealistic requirements for a nuclear deal. With a deal so close at hand, new sanctions are unnecessary and would be counterproductive. Moreover, they would violate the terms of the successful November 2013 interim nuclear agreement and prompt Iran to take escalatory steps.

    Over the past year, Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have made significant progress toward long-term solutions on major issues of proliferation concern. For instance, the two sides agree in principle that the design of and fuel for Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor can and should be modified to drastically cut its output of weapons-grade plutonium.

    They agree that Iran should implement and ratify measures that would allow short-notice inspections of undeclared sites and provide early notification of new nuclear projects to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This would allow for prompt detection and disruption of a clandestine nuclear weapons effort.

    Both sides understand that the ongoing IAEA investigation of past Iranian activities with “possible military dimensions” will continue after a comprehensive nuclear agreement is reached. At the same time, it is clear that all sanctions tied to this particular issue will not be removed unless the questions are adequately resolved. This makes it more likely that if there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement, Iran will have a stronger incentive to provide the IAEA with the information necessary to determine that no such efforts are taking place now or will in the future.

    Some members of Congress erroneously suggest that the only way to block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons is somehow to persuade Iran’s leaders to dismantle the country’s major enrichment facilities and other elements of its “illicit nuclear program,” as Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), two leading advocates of new sanctions, recently put it. But it is unrealistic to expect that Iran’s leadership would accept such harsh terms, even under tougher sanctions pressure.

    Instead, negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 are discussing a combination of realistic, practical measures that would establish verifiable, long-term, sustainable limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity. These must be sufficient and irreversible enough so as to block Iran from quickly amassing fissile material for weapons use while providing Tehran with a politically and technically acceptable enrichment capability consistent with its practical needs.

    Iran’s 10,200 first-generation, operating centrifuges provide a capability that far exceeds its foreseeable civilian nuclear fuel needs. At the same time, they can produce enough weapons-grade uranium gas for one nuclear bomb (25 kilograms) in about two to three months. The P5+1 is, for good reason, pressing Iran to significantly reduce its enrichment capacity in order to increase the time Iran would need to produce a significant quantity of weapons-grade material to a year or more.

    Effective limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity will involve several complementary measures, including reducing the capacity of currently operating centrifuges; verifiably disabling centrifuge machines that are installed but not yet operating; limiting, but not stopping, research on more-advanced centrifuges; and reducing the size of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium and converting it to oxide form.

    The two sides are closer to agreement on the right formula, but differences remain. In late November, Iranian negotiators proposed lowering the number of its operating centrifuges, but they will need to reduce the number further to assure the P5+1 that Iran cannot make a dash for nuclear weapons.

    The P5+1 has promised Iran that it will phase out nuclear-related sanctions as Iran meets its nonproliferation obligations. But if the P5+1 wants to convince Iran to accept tighter restrictions on enrichment, the six-country group should agree to the faster removal of certain sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the European Union that are not tied to the weaponization issue.

    An effective, verifiable nuclear deal is within reach if the two sides—and the U.S. Congress—make smart choices in the days and weeks ahead.

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    Understanding the Extension of the Iran Nuclear Talks and the Joint Plan of Action

    Description: 

    Under the terms of the extension, Iran and the P5+1 committed to reaching a political agreement on the terms of a comprehensive nuclear deal within four months of November 24, 2014.

    Body: 

    Volume 6, Issue 12, December 23, 2014

    The decision last month by the United States, its P5+1 negotiating partners, and Iran to extend their negotiations by additional four months means that a long-term resolution to the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program has been delayed once again. At the same time, it also means that significant restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program remain in place while the nuclear talks continue.

    Not only did the two sides agree to extend the restrictions on Iran’s program that were put in place under the November 2013 interim agreement, formally known as the Joint Plan of Action, but additional restrictions were put in place under the terms of the extension to ensure that progress on the most proliferation-sensitive elements of Iran’s nuclear program is halted.

    To date, both Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russian, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have adhered to the obligations of the interim agreement. In the press conference announcing the extension of the talks and the Joint Plan of Action on November 24, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called attention to the compliance record, noting that there have been no violations of the agreement.

    Terms of the Extension

    Under the terms of the extension, Iran and the P5+1 committed to reaching a political agreement on the terms of a comprehensive nuclear deal within four months of November 24, 2014 and then taking an additional three months to complete any technical annexes by June 30, 2015.

    However, several of the parties expressed an intention to complete the negotiations on a political agreement in a shorter time frame. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters on November 24 that a deal could be reached in a matter a days. British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said that two to three months was a realistic goal. Regardless of the timing, the restrictions of the interim agreement will remain in place through June 2015.

    In total, under the terms of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action, Iran has stopped enriching uranium to 20 percent, a key proliferation concern to the P5+1 because 20 percent enriched material is more easily enriched to weapons-grade material (greater than 90 percent U-235). Leading up to the interim deal, Iran had nearly amassed enough 20 percent enriched uranium gas, which when further enriched to weapons grade, is enough for one bomb (about 250 kilograms).

    Over the past twelve months, Iran also took steps to neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium gas. Half of its stockpile was blended down to less than five percent enriched uranium gas, and the other half was converted to more proliferation-resistant uranium powder, which is used to make fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor.

    Iran also halted major construction activities at the Arak reactor, froze the number of its operating and installed centrifuges, and agreed to more intrusive inspections, including daily access to its enrichment facilities.  Iran also agreed only to produce centrifuges necessary to replace damaged machines.

    The extension announced November 24 imposes additional obligations on Iran. Under the new restrictions, Iran will continue to convert its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium powder into fuel plates. At the time of the Nov. 24 extension, Iran had approximately 75 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium powder in its stockpile. Tehran agreed to convert 35 kilograms of this powder into fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor over the next seven months.[1]

    While this material can be converted back into gas form for further enrichment, the conversion steps would take additional time and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would very likely detect any such efforts quickly. Iran also committed not to set up a line to reconvert uranium oxide powder back into gas. The IAEA notes in its reports on Iran’s nuclear program that no such conversion line exists.

    Iran and the P5+1 also agreed to more specific restrictions on Iran’s research and development program to resolve ambiguities and prevent Iran from moving its advanced centrifuges to new levels of testing.

    Under the interim agreement, Iran can continue its safeguarded research and development activities.  This includes testing of advanced centrifuges at the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant, so long as testing is not used for the accumulation of enriched uranium.

    The additional restrictions on research and development as a result of the Nov. 24 extension, are designed to resolve ambiguities[2] regarding permitted and prohibited research activities. According to the documents outlining the extension, these provisions are designed to “limit research and development on advanced centrifuges that move the machines to the next level of development.”

    Under these provisions, Iran agreed not to test the IR-5 with uranium hexafluoride gas. Iran also agreed not to pursue testing of the IR-6 on a cascade level with uranium gas, or semi-industrial scale testing of the IR-2M. Iran also agreed not to complete installation of the IR-8 centrifuge, which is currently partially installed at the Natanz pilot plant.

    The IAEA will also have greater access to Iran’s centrifuge production sites under the extension. According to the terms, the agency’s inspections visits will double and be conducted with very little notice.

    Taken together, the limits on research and development and regular access to monitor centrifuge production facilities will prevent Iran from refining and mass-producing more efficient machines that could allow it to move more quickly to enrich material for weapons purposes.

    Iran also agreed to forgo uranium enrichment using other methods, including laser enrichment. While it is unlikely that Iran could move quickly to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels using these alternative methods, the commitment to refrain from testing any of these methods is positive and should mitigate concerns about covert enrichment activities involving such technologies.

    Iran is known to have experimented with laser enrichment in the past, and as part of its agreement to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation into inconsistencies with its nuclear declaration and alleged activities with past military dimensions, Iran provided the agency with information about its laser enrichment activities. Iran also granted the IAEA access to the Lashkar Ab’ad Laser Centre on March 12 as part of its investigation.

    On the P5+1 side, the limited sanctions relief from the United States and the European Union in the petrochemical and precious metals trade remains in place. As does the commitment not to pass any new nuclear-related sanctions at the U.S., EU, or UN levels. The humanitarian channel also remains in place.

    In addition, Iran will receive access to $700 million of its frozen assets per month.

    Conclusion

    With the Joint Plan of Action in effect, Iran’s nuclear program remains limited and highly-monitored. The additional measures in the extension move Iran further away from a dash to the bomb. And contrary to the assertion of some skeptics, Iran cannot use the extension to advance its nuclear capabilities.

    President Barack Obama said on December 21 in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union" that since the United States began negotiations with Iran in mid-2013, it’s "probably the first year and a half in which Iran has not advanced its nuclear program in the last decade."  

    Both sides must use the additional time afforded by the extension of the talks wisely. It is essential that the two sides work expeditiously but carefully to bridge remaining gaps necessary to conclude an effective, verifiable, long-term agreement that blocks all of Iran’s potential pathways to nuclear weapons: the plutonium route, the enriched uranium route, as well as the clandestine route. –KELSEY DAVENPORT and DARYL G. KIMBALL


    ENDNOTES

    [1] As pointed out by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in a Dec. 9, 2014 paper, some of the material fed into the conversion process remains within the process or in scrap or waste form. Some of this material can be recovered and converted back into gas for further enrichment. We agree that the waste and scrap are an issue of nonproliferation concern that should be dealt with appropriately in the comprehensive agreement now under negotiation. However, in judging Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the terms of the Joint Plan of Action, it is our judgment, and that of the IAEA, that Iran is in compliance with the commitments as set forth in the interim agreement.

    [2] The IAEA’s quarterly report of Nov. 7, 2014, noted that Iran began feeding natural uranium hexafluoride “intermittently” into a single IR-5 centrifuge at its pilot facility. While unhelpful, this does not appear to be a “violation” of the Joint Plan of Action, as the ISIS has alleged. ISIS published an analysis on the IAEA report that said that “Iran may have violated” the Joint Plan of Action by starting to feed natural uranium gas into the IR-5 centrifuge. ISIS went on to claim that: "Under the interim deal, this centrifuge should not have been fed with (gas) as reported in this safeguards report." See: “U.S. experts disagree on whether Iran violated nuclear deal with powers,” by Fredrik Dahl, Reuters, Nov. 8, 2014. 

                However, the text of the Joint Plan of Action is more ambiguous than ISIS suggests. It says: "Iran will continue its safeguarded R&D practices, including its current enrichment R&D practices, which are not designed for accumulation of the enriched uranium." The Nov. 7 IAEA report noted, in paragraphs 25 and 26, that no low-enriched uranium was withdrawn as the product and tails were recombined at the end of the process.

                Furthermore, while the Joint Plan of Action prohibits the introduction of uranium gas into additional centrifuges at Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), it does not rule out research and development of this kind at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP).

                However, due to the ambiguous nature of the terms of the Joint Plan of Action and the concern that Iran might try to exploit those ambiguities, the P5+1 succeeded in persuading Iran to agree to further limits on feeding or testing its more advanced types of centrifuges as part of the extended Joint Plan of Action.

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    Posted: December 31, 1969

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