News Briefs

U.S. Cluster Munition Use Alleged in Yemen

Jeff Abramson

Pictures released last month raised questions about possible U.S. use of cluster munitions in Yemen. On June 7, Amnesty International released photographs that appeared to show a U.S.-manufactured cruise missile and cluster munitions that struck the southern Yemeni community of al-Ma’jalah in December 2009, killing 55 people, including 14 alleged al Qaeda members, according to the organization’s press release. If the incident is confirmed as involving U.S.-fired weapons, it would be the first U.S. use of cluster munitions since 2003 in Iraq. Thus far, Washington has not responded to questions about the weapons. Whether they could have been transferred to Yemen and used by Yemeni forces is also unclear, but unlikely. The version of the U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile identified in the photos, the BGM-109D, is not known to have been transferred to Yemen or any other country and is designed to be launched from ships or submarines that Yemen does not have, Amnesty International arms control researcher Mike Lewis said in an interview. Neither the United States nor Yemen has signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which enters into force Aug. 1 and bars the use of the weapons in question.


IAEA Questions to Syria Remain Unanswered

Daniel Salisbury

Questions posed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to Syria about past nuclear-related procurements and activities still have not been answered, according to an agency report released May 31.

The report called for Syria to “cooperate with the agency on these issues in a timely manner.” Syria has provided some information, which the agency is currently assessing, the report said. The outstanding questions include previously unreported uranium-conversion activities using undeclared quantities of uranyl nitrate and yellowcake, a uranium concentrate, that the agency uncovered at a facility housing Syria’s Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR). (See ACT, December 2009.) Uranyl nitrate is a substance that is covered by safeguards and must therefore be declared to IAEA inspectors. Yellowcake, an early precursor for civil and military nuclear efforts, does not require safeguards.

The IAEA report says that the agency is still awaiting results of analysis undertaken using samples recovered during a physical inventory verification at the MNSR in March.

Syria’s initial explanation for the material in June 2009 was not supported by IAEA sampling, the agency said in a report last November. (See ACT, December 2009.) In November, Syria said the particles originated from domestically produced yellowcake. Syria has said the undeclared conversion experiment took place in 2004 and that the resulting uranyl nitrate was to be used in irradiation experiments. Conversion involves changing yellowcake to uranium hexafluoride gas, required for enrichment.

Syria has still not resolved “outstanding issues” related to the presence of chemically processed uranium at the Dair al Zour site, the IAEA report says. Israel bombed that facility in 2007, and Syria subsequently bulldozed over the site. (See ACT, November 2007.)


IAEA Board Discusses Israeli Nuclear Program

Daniel Salisbury

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors last month discussed Israel’s nuclear program during its quarterly meeting, the first time since 1991 it had done so.

The June 10 discussion, described on the meeting’s agenda as “Israeli Nuclear Capabilities,” was initiated by the Arab Group and Iran. A statement by Sudan on behalf of the Arab Group said, “Israel continues to defy the the international community, through its continued refusal to accede” to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

In a statement to the board, David Danieli, deputy director-general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, said that Israel had “always maintained a responsible policy in the nuclear domain.” He added that the 18 states had sought to “bring up the name of Israel along with the names of Iran and Syria,” whose nuclear programs are under investigation by the IAEA.

Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said his country “regrets that this issue has been brought to this Board.” Davies said that Israel had “broken no agreements under the purview of the Agency” and that the agenda item “represents a distraction from other pressing issues before the IAEA.”

Israel is widely believed to have a nuclear weapons program, but has never openly declared it.


Open Skies Members Look to Future

Valerie Pacer

The parties to the Open Skies Treaty agreed last month to focus on adapting the treaty to the demands of the 21st century while keeping in mind the financial and technological constraints that many member states are facing.

In the conference’s final document, the parties agreed to consider working individually or with other countries to move away from film cameras and instead consider the technical and financial aspects of moving to digital sensors and cameras. “The requirement to plan financially for this transition now is imperative,” the document said.

Participants in the June 7-9 conference in Vienna also discussed the acquisition of newer, more modern aircraft for Open Skies flights. In addition, the final document considers expansion of treaty membership to more Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) countries as a way to “enhance the effectiveness and…provide the opportunity to broaden the security benefits” of the treaty. Currently, all treaty parties are OSCE members.

The treaty, which entered into force in 2002, allows its 34 parties to conduct overflights of the entirety of a member’s territory as a confidence-building mechanism. The treaty requires member countries to make data acquired during their flights available to all parties on request, thus giving all parties equal access to information. According to the final document, there have been more than 670 flights since Russia conducted the first one on Aug. 5, 2002.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia Celeste Wallander, co-chair of the conference, identified the “cooperation and transparency” that the treaty provides as “one of the pillars of conventional arms control and military transparency in Europe.” In its opening statement, the Russian delegation referred to the treaty as “a unique and unparalleled multinational instrument for strengthening confidence and security in a huge region.”

According to the final document, the treaty members “recognize that the Treaty might serve as a model for aerial monitoring regimes in other regions of the world.”