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"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
Julia Masterson

New Iranian President May Prolong Deal Talks

Iran’s president-elect Ebrahim Raisi has expressed support for returning Iran to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal if U.S. sanctions are verifiably lifted. Raisi’s election, however, appears to be responsible for delaying the resumption of talks in Vienna to restore the accord as the president-elect’s advisers are reviewing the progress that negotiators made in the first six rounds of talks. The sixth round concluded June 20, two days after the election, and it is still unclear when the seventh round will commence. Raisi’s position on the nuclear deal is consistent with the position taken...

New Iran President May Complicate Nuclear Talks


July/August 2021
By Kelsey Davenport and Julia Masterson

Iran’s election of conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi to be the country’s next president may complicate efforts to restore the United States and Iran to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, but is unlikely to alter Tehran’s interest in reviving the accord.

Ebrahim Raisi is pictured June 21 during his first press conference since his election as Iran's next president. The victory of the hardline cleric could complicate efforts by Iran and the United States to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.  (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)Raisi, the former head of the judiciary and a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, opposed the nuclear deal in 2015, but during the campaign voiced his support for restoring it. Although Raisi will not take office until August, he is expected to weigh in on the ongoing negotiations to restore the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Raisi’s election was expected after a number of possible challengers were ruled ineligible to run by the 12-member Guardian Council, which vets and approves all presidential candidates.

Raisi won 62 percent of the vote, but less than half of eligible voters cast ballots, suggesting low enthusiasm for the candidates. In the 2017 presidential election, when Raisi ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Hassan Rouhani, 73 percent of the population voted.

Prior to the election, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, told al-Jazeera that if Raisi were elected, “there will be no disruption” in talks to restore the nuclear deal. He said that Iran’s policies are “unchanging, irrespective of different administrations.”

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan similarly said that Iran’s position on talks to restore the JCPOA is unlikely to change with Raisi’s election. Sullivan told ABC on June 20 that the “ultimate decision” to return to the deal will be made by the supreme leader and “he was the same person before the election as he is after the election.”

In a June 21 press conference, Raisi reiterated Iran’s position on restoring the deal, saying that U.S. sanctions must be lifted and their removal verified.

The sixth round of indirect talks between the United States and Iran on restoring the JCPOA wrapped up June 20, two days after the election.

Araghchi told journalists that day that progress has been made in all areas, but some “major differences” have not been resolved. He said the remaining issues “require serious decisions in the capitals.”

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, tweeted on June 17 that progress was made during recent talks on one of the most controversial issues, the sequencing of steps each side needs to take. He also noted that “difficult and time-consuming topics” remain unresolved.

One of the outstanding issues appears to be Iran’s demand that the United States provide some guarantee that it will not withdraw from the nuclear deal again and reimpose sanctions, as President Donald Trump did in May 2018. Araghchi told Iranian state TV on June 20 that Iran seeks “guarantees that assure” that “what the previous [U.S.] administration did…will not happen again.” He said some progress has been made on this issue but it requires more work.

Another issue that does not appear to have been resolved is the U.S. desire for Iran to agree to future talks on a range of issues once the nuclear deal is restored. U.S. President Joe Biden has signaled his determination to pursue further negotiations with Iran to build on the nuclear deal and to address regional security issues.

Raisi’s election may complicate those goals. In his June 21 press conference, Raisi said Iran seeks a balanced relationship with the outside world and the country’s foreign policy does not begin and end with the nuclear deal. He said that Iran’s ballistic missile program will not be a subject of negotiations. Raisi also asked why Iran should engage with the United States on a broader range of issues when Washington has not met its obligations under the nuclear deal.

U.S. policymakers have frequently raised concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile activities, which are limited by UN Security Council Resolution 2231 but not covered by the nuclear deal. Biden is also under pressure to force Iran to end support for its militant proxies such as Hamas in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a June 21 press briefing that the administration is confident that if the nuclear deal is restored, the United States will have “additional tools” to address issues outside of the nuclear deal, including ballistic missiles. He said Iran has “no doubt” about where the United States stands on follow-on diplomacy.

 

Iran’s election of Ebrahim Raisi to be the country’s next president could complicate efforts to restore compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.a

IAEA Chief Presses Iran on Past Nuclear Activities


July/August 2021
By Julia Masterson

Iran’s failure to cooperate with an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation into its past nuclear activities “seriously affects” the agency’s ability to verify the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said in his introductory statement to the agency’s Board of Governors, which met June 7–10 in Vienna.

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, talks to a journalist after the press conference about the agency's monitoring of Iran's nuclear energy program in May in Vienna. (Photo by Michael Gruber/Getty Images)Despite repeated efforts by the IAEA to engage in technical discussions with Iran, Iranian officials have failed to provide a satisfactory explanation for the presence of nuclear particles at three undeclared locations. “In the absence of such an explanation from Iran, I am deeply concerned that nuclear material has been present at the three undeclared locations in Iran and that the current locations of this nuclear material are not known by the agency,” Grossi said.

Ahead of the meeting, Grossi circulated a May 31 report detailing the status of Iran’s comprehensive nuclear safeguards agreement, which it is required to implement as a state-party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The IAEA investigation into Iran’s past nuclear activities has raised concerns about the accuracy and completeness of Iran’s declarations pursuant to that agreement. In his statement, Grossi reiterated that Iran should clarify and resolve all outstanding inconsistencies without further delay.

Grossi has adopted a tougher stance toward Iran than his predecessor, Yukiya Amano. Grossi appears committed to resolving all issues related to Iran’s safeguards agreement during his IAEA tenure.

The issues pertain to pre-2003 nuclear activities, when Tehran had a nuclear weapons program. The IAEA concluded its investigation into these activities in 2015, but is obligated to follow up on evidence that points to undeclared nuclear materials and activities that Iran should have disclosed under its safeguards agreement.

According to the report, the investigation has centered on four locations in Iran, denoted as Locations 1 to 4.

Information made available to the IAEA in September 2018 suggests that Location 1 could have been involved in the storage of nuclear materials and equipment, information that Iran is required to disclose per its safeguards agreement. (See ACT, November 2018.)

Environmental sampling conducted by the agency in February 2019 yielded evidence of “natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin [human made], the composition of which indicated that they may have been produced through uranium conversion activities.” The agency shared this finding with Iran, but it assessed Iran’s explanation of these undeclared materials and activities to be “not technically credible.”

At Location 2, the IAEA found indications of the possible presence between 2002 and 2003 of natural uranium, in the form of a metal disc that underwent drilling and processing. When the agency requested clarification on the origin of the disc in 2019, Iran declined to respond. Subsequent IAEA efforts to locate the disc and verify its existence have been inconclusive.

The IAEA found evidence of possible uranium-conversion activities in 2003 at Location 3 and, at Location 4, it found the possible use and storage of nuclear material “where outdoor, conventional explosive testing may have taken place,” also in 2003.

Iran denied initial agency requests for access to those locations in 2019, but it later granted permission in August 2020 under an Iranian-IAEA agreement. (See ACT, September 2020.) Subsequent inspections revealed the presence of “anthropogenic uranium particles that required explanation by Iran” at both locations, but Iran has failed to satisfactorily address any IAEA inquiries related to the two sites.

Grossi and Iranian officials held a series of talks aimed at addressing questions associated with the four locations beginning in April 2021. To date, Iran has not cooperated sufficiently.

Another round of bilateral technical meetings is scheduled to begin the week of June 21, several days after Iran’s June 18 presidential election. It remains to be seen whether Ebrahim Raisi, newly elected president, will engage with the IAEA to resolve the disputed issues.

 

Iran-IAEA Agreement in Question

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed frustration over Iran’s failure to respond to agency inquiries about the status of a special arrangement for monitoring Iran’s nuclear program.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi told the agency’s Board of Governors on June 25 that the special monitoring arrangement had expired the previous day and that it was “essential for the agency to understand Iran’s position” regarding the data being collected under the arrangement. He stressed the “vital importance” of an “immediate response from Iran.”

Iran and the IAEA reached an agreement in February for Tehran to collect and store certain information after Iran informed the agency that it was suspending certain monitoring and verification mechanisms required by the 2015 nuclear deal. (See ACT, March 2021.) Iran will transfer the collected data to the IAEA if U.S. compliance with the nuclear deal is restored. The arrangement expired in May, but was extended through June 24.

Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said in a June 28 press conference that “no decision has been made yet, either negative or positive, about extending the monitoring deal.” He also said that there has been no decision about deleting the collected data and video footage.

A senior U.S. State Department official said in a June 24 press call that the United States is concerned about the status of the agreement. “If the IAEA is blind for a certain amount of time,” it will make it “much more difficult” restore compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, he said.

The IAEA has access to certain nuclear sites under Iran’s safeguards agreement, which Tehran continues to implement.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Iran has failed to adequately explain its past nuclear activities to the International Atomic Energy Agency, affecting the agency’s ability to verify the peaceful nature of the program, the IAEA director-general has said.

Iran Nuclear Talks Head to Sixth Round

The fifth round of talks on restoring U.S. and Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal wrapped up June 2. Negotiators appear optimistic about the prospects for success while acknowledging that some issues remain unresolved. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister and lead negotiator Abas Araghchi said that the next round of talks, slated to begin June 10, “logically could and should be the final round.” He told the press June 2 that the remaining differences are “not unresolvable.” Enrique Mora, the EU official coordinating the indirect talks between the United States and Iran, was similarly...

Inspectors Find New CW Agent in Syria

June 2021
By Julia Masterson

International inspectors found an undeclared chemical warfare agent in Syria during a September 2020 visit, according to a monitoring report released April 23. The report, issued by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), suggests that Syria may still be producing chemical weapons despite being censured by the group for repeated chemical weapons use. 

An April 2021 report issued by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says inspectors found an undeclared chemical warfare agent in Syria during a September 2020 visit. (Photo: Koen Van Weel/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)As a state-party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), Syria is expressly prohibited from producing, stockpiling, or using chemical weapons. Syria joined the treaty in 2013, but reports of chemical weapons attacks by Syrian forces have emerged since the UN-OPCW operation in 2013–2016 to remove and destroy the country’s declared chemical weapons arsenal, raising questions about the validity of Syria’s initial stockpile declaration. 

To resolve outstanding issues and verify the completeness and accuracy of that declaration, the OPCW established the Declaration and Assessment Team (DAT) in 2014, but Syria has repeatedly refused to cooperate with the team’s work. Together with the findings of the April report, the OPCW so far has recorded and is investigating 20 outstanding issues pertaining to Syria’s initial declaration. 

Of chief concern is whether Syria is continuing to produce chemical warfare agents and expand its arsenal in blatant defiance of the CWC. Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN high commissioner for disarmament, briefed the Security Council on the discovery of the new Syrian chemical agent on May 6 and said the nature of the agent, “inside storage containers of large volume at a previously declared chemical weapons facility,” could imply undeclared and ongoing chemical weapons production activities. The disarmament chief neglected to name the new chemical warfare agent, but Syria has already declared its production of nerve agents sarin and VX, as well as sulfur mustard. 

In March, OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias told the global chemical weapons watchdog’s Executive Council that “unknown, potentially significant quantities of chemical warfare agents” had yet to be declared by Syria. The OPCW reportedly also called on Damascus to declare its production or weaponization of a nerve agent at an unnamed chemical weapons production facility. For these and other reasons, according to a March briefing by Nakamitsu, “the declaration submitted by [Syria] cannot be considered accurate and complete.” (See ACT, April 2021.) 

It is not clear whether the newly discovered chemical warfare agent pertains to the OPCW’s call that Syria declare its production or weaponization of a nerve agent. The April report does not provide any specifics on the agent, only that it is “neat,” meaning complete and undiluted. The OPCW Technical Secretariat informed the Syrian government on April 16 that a new outstanding issue would be opened and discussed by the DAT in mid-May. 

Syria’s chemical weapons program will remain a matter of principal concern for the OPCW Executive Council until the program is verifiably eliminated, Vidmantas Purlys, Lithuania’s ambassador to the OPCW, said during an interview on May 18 with Arms Control Today. Purlys is serving as a vice chair of the council alongside permanent representatives to the OPCW from Ecuador, Germany, and Iran and council Chairperson Abdelouahab Bellouki of Morocco. 

The council plays a pivotal role in enforcing compliance with the CWC. In April 2020, following publication of a damning OPCW report attributing a series of chemical weapons attacks to the Syrian government, the council called on Syria to declare the entirety of its stockpile to the OPCW. (See ACT, May 2020.) 

Syria failed to meet that deadline, and in April 2021, CWC states-parties voted to adopt an unprecedented resolution co-sponsored by Lithuania to temporarily revoke Syria’s rights and privileges under the CWC until it declares its stockpile and returns to compliance with the treaty. (See ACT, May 2021.)

“It was an important demonstration by the international community that there would be no impunity for the use of chemical weapons,” Purlys said, voicing his hope that “Syria will listen and constructively respond to this important message of the international community.”

Purlys urged the international community to continue pushing Syria to comply fully with its CWC obligations and to cooperate with the OPCW. “Use of chemical weapons is [a] grave violation of international law and those responsible for their use must be held accountable and brought to justice,” he said. 

The Executive Council will meet again on July 6–9 at The Hague.

A new report suggests Syria may still be producing chemical weapons despite being censured by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for repeated CW use.

Iran Agrees to Extend Inspections of Nuclear Sites

June 2021

Iran has agreed to extend a critical temporary monitoring arrangement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for one month, the agency reported May 24. The agreement will expire June 24, leaving 30 days for Iran and the other members of the 2015 nuclear deal to restore that accord. 

Rafael Mariano Grossi (R), Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi (L). (Photo: /POOL/AFP via Getty Images)Iran suspended implementation of the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement on Feb. 23, marking an escalatory step in its scheme to intensify activities in violation of the nuclear deal. Iran is obligated to implement the additional protocol in accordance with the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But it decided to suspend compliance pursuant to a December 2020 Iranian law designed to pressure the United States to deliver on sanctions relief. Tehran has demanded that Washington reverse all sanctions imposed since the United States unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018. (See ACT, January/February 2021.) 

An additional protocol is a voluntary arrangement that allows IAEA inspectors increased access to sites and information related to a country’s nuclear program. The aim is to verify that nuclear materials are not diverted for malign purposes. 

The special monitoring arrangement reached by Iran and the IAEA on Feb. 21 preempted Tehran’s suspension of its additional protocol and alleviated mounting concerns over the possibility of losing visibility into Iran’s nuclear activities. 

Under the temporary technical understanding, Iran agreed to continue recording and collecting certain information and committed to transfer that data to the IAEA once sanctions are eased. But the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said in a Feb. 21 statement that all recorded and collected data would be completely erased if the JCPOA sanctions were not removed by the May 21 deadline. (See ACT, March 2021.)

Although the arrangement has now been extended, the original deadline weighed heavily on diplomats in Vienna, who are entrenched in negotiations toward restoring the JCPOA. Originally agreed for three months, the arrangement was intended to provide diplomatic space so parties to the nuclear deal could reach consensus on the steps needed for a complete return to JCPOA compliance by Iran and the United States. For Iran, those steps would include a recommitment to its additional protocol, thus negating the need for the temporary monitoring arrangement. 

The IAEA will regain access to all information collected since Feb. 23 once the JCPOA is restored and sanctions are lifted. Certain details regarding Iran’s decision to extend the arrangement remain private, but it does not appear there was any gap in monitoring between the May 21 expiration and May 24 extension of the temporary agreement. 

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s representative to international organizations in Vienna, commended the extension on May 24, tweeting that “it will help maintain businesslike atmosphere at the Vienna talks . . . and facilitate a successful outcome of the diplomatic efforts to restore the nuclear deal.”

As the May 21 deadline drew near, the European members of the deal—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—emphasized the importance of extending the monitoring arrangement. “IAEA access will of course be essential to our efforts to restore the [JCPOA], as the deal cannot be implemented without it,” they said. 

Iran implicitly pledged under the extended monitoring arrangement to continue implementing its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA, which it is required to uphold as a state-party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Despite a modest decline in inspector presence resulting from the suspension of Iran’s additional protocol and the unique parameters of the temporary monitoring agreement, regular safeguards on Iran’s nuclear program have continued without disruption. 

Regular monitoring reports by the IAEA provide transparency into Iranian nuclear activities and assurance that, despite its violations of the JCPOA, Iran’s nuclear program remains entirely peaceful in nature.—JULIA MASTERSON

Iran has agreed to extend a critical temporary monitoring arrangement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for one month, the agency reported May 24.

Biden and Moon Discuss North Korea

U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to terminate U.S.-South Korea missile guidelines that capped Seoul’s missile development and announced the appointment of a career diplomat, Sung Kim, as the U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea. While Biden did not provide new details about the results of his administration’s policy review toward North Korea, the two leaders reiterated the need for a calibrated, phased approach toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and stressed the importance of using dialogue and diplomacy toward North Korea in the news...

Iran, U.S. Take Steps Toward Restoring Nuclear Deal


May 2021
By Julia Masterson

World powers were back in Vienna the week of April 27, trying to accelerate their efforts to bring the United States and Iran into compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Representatives of the European Union, Iran and others attend the Iran nuclear talks at the Grand Hotel on April 15 in Vienna, Austria. Representatives from the United States, Iran, the European Union, Russia, China and other participants from the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are meeting directly and indirectly over possibly reviving the plan.  (Photo: EU Delegation in Vienna via Getty Images)Iran, the five other members of the deal, and the United States have spent most of April in the Austrian capital discussing ways to restore the accord. An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed on April 20 that work is underway on a document outlining steps that Iran and the United States must take to return to compliance. Negotiators aim to have a concrete proposal by mid-May, Reuters reported.

U.S. and Iranian delegates did not meet face to face, but substantial progress was made through indirect negotiations mediated by the other members of the agreement—China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

Delegations from the intermediary countries first gathered with Iran on April 2 to discuss restoring the deal, with Enrique Mora, European external action deputy secretary-general, chairing those discussions. The participating states established formal working groups to address the two primary issues impeding restoration of the accord: the sanctions against Iran that the United States must lift to reenter the deal and the nuclear limits to which Iran must revert in order to meet its own obligations under the agreement.

States met for plenary sessions to deliberate the two working groups’ findings on April 9, April 15, April 17, April 20, and April 27.

After their April 20 session, Mora released a statement remarking that “participants took stock of progress made in the ongoing discussions in Vienna regarding specific measures needed in terms of sanctions lifting and nuclear implementation.” He said that given the progress made, participants would establish a third working group to consider how the United States and Iran could sequence mutual steps toward compliance with the agreement. The negotiating parties agreed to resume discussions in Vienna the week of April 27.

Overall, the participating states appear optimistic, despite the complicated nature of indirect negotiations between Iran and the United States. According to U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price, the talks have remained “positive” and “businesslike.” He said the discussions “have not been without difficulty, in part because these talks are indirect,” but that still “there has been some progress.”

U.S. President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to reenter the deal after President Donald Trump unilaterally abrogated the accord in May 2018 and reimposed stringent sanctions that had been lifted under the agreement.

Price announced on April 7 that the Biden administration is “prepared to take the steps necessary to return to compliance with the JCPOA, including by lifting sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA.” But he added, “I am not in a position here to give you chapter and verse on what those might be.”

An impasse exists, given that Washington and Tehran appear to have different interpretations of what specific sanctions the United States must lift to return to the deal. The United States appears hesitant to sweep away all sanctions reimposed since 2018, which Iran has demanded as a condition for face-to-face discussions.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, who is also Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, told The Wall Street Journal on April 15, “Our position is quite clear…. As far as we are concerned every sanction imposed or reimposed or relabeled by the Trump administration are JCPOA-related and should be lifted.” But he hinted during the interview that Tehran may be open to compromise, saying, “Of course, there are different ways to see that, and that’s why we negotiate.”

Araghchi outlined one potential path forward on April 16, when he noted in a separate interview that the United States could explicitly name the sanctions it could lift and, in return, Iran could list the nuclear steps it would take to return to compliance with the deal. In his view, this approach could achieve an “agreement on this that can be implemented quicker.” It is not clear whether negotiators adopted this approach in Vienna or what the details are of the drafting process already underway.

Expressing support for the compliance-for-compliance approach to restoring the deal, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on April 18 that “the United States is not going to lift sanctions unless we have clarity and confidence that Iran will fully return to compliance with its obligations under the deal.” He described the indirect talks in Vienna as “constructive.”

Apart from sanctions, irreversible advances in Iran’s nuclear program further complicate restoring the JCPOA. That is because although Iran could return to the enrichment-level and stockpile limits required by the deal, critical knowledge gained by advancing enrichment and operating sophisticated centrifuges in violation of the accord cannot be unlearned.

After the United States abrogated the agreement, Iran in May 2019 began gradually violating its commitments. In November of that year, Iran announced that it would no longer be bound by the agreement’s restrictions on the research and development of advanced centrifuges. Since then, Iran has introduced new centrifuges not covered by the nuclear deal and is operating advanced machines in violation of the accord’s limits.

Also, the Iranian Parliament passed a law in December 2020 calling on the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to take a series of escalatory steps in violation of the accord, some of which may result in irreversible knowledge gain, including the production of uranium metal, which Iran is prohibited from producing for 15 years under the JCPOA. Iran began producing uranium metal in February. (See ACT, March 2021.)

The situation was made more complicated by an April 11 sabotage attack against Iran’s Natanz nuclear site widely believed to be Israeli in origin. In response, Iran announced it would further boost its enrichment levels of uranium-235 to 60 percent purity, which is closer to bomb-grade quality. Araghchi broadcast the move in Vienna and said that, in addition to replacing the centrifuges damaged in the sabotage attack, Iran would install 1,000 additional machines at Natanz that would be used to produce higher-enriched uranium.

Iran confirmed it began enriching to 60 percent U-235 purity on April 16 under International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring.

Although the attack on Natanz and Iran’s retaliatory measures did not derail productive dialogue, France, Germany, and the UK issued a statement on April 14 condemning Iran and noting that “this is a serious development since the production of highly enriched uranium constitutes an important step in the production of a nuclear weapon.” They added, “Iran has no credible civilian need for enrichment at this level.”

A European official told Reuters on April 16 that Iran’s decision to boost its enrichment “is not making the negotiation easier” but that informal talks between the JCPOA participants and the United States would continue in Vienna as planned.

For now, all states participating directly or indirectly in the negotiations in Vienna appear committed to moving forward. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reinforced this view April 21 when he said the United States is “seemingly serious at this stage” and that, for Iran, it would take only a short time to verify sanctions removal and revert back to compliance.

Progress reportedly continues despite efforts by opponents, especially in Iran and Israel, to blow up the discussions.

States Censure Syria for Chemical Weapons Violations


May 2021
By Leanne Quinn and Julia Masterson

Member states of the world’s chemical weapons watchdog have voted to suspend Syria’s rights and privileges under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in an effort to hold that country accountable for repeated chemical weapons use.

Delegates participate at the 25th Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention in April 2021. (Photo: OPCW)The decision, adopted April 21 by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), marked a historic step toward restoring the global norm against chemical weapons. It was the first time the organization had suspended a member’s rights since the OPCW’s inception in 1997.

Led by France and supported by 46 member states, the move means that Syria's rights to vote, stand for election, and hold any office within the organization have been suspended. The measure, which required a two-thirds’ majority to pass, was adopted on a 87–15 vote at the second session of the 25th conference of the CWC in The Hague. Syria, China, and Russia, a major ally of the Syrian government, were among the nations opposed. There were 34 abstentions. Negotiations on a consensus proposal failed.

The decision came as no surprise. On April 12, the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) released its report concluding that “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that on Feb. 4, 2018, a Syrian Air Force helicopter hit eastern Saraqib by dropping at least one cylinder that disbursed toxic chlorine gas over a large area.

The IIT’s first report, issued in 2020, found the Syrian Air Force responsible for three chemical weapons attacks on Syrian territory in March 2017, using sarin, a volatile nerve agent, and chlorine. The IIT was established in June 2018 with a mandate to identify the perpetrators of all instances of chemical weapons use in Syria.

Following that first report, the organization’s 41-member Executive Council condemned Syria for its documented and repeated use of chemical weapons. The council gave Syria 90 days to declare all of its chemical weapons and related facilities, as well as to resolve 19 outstanding issues regarding its facilities and stockpile declaration to the OPCW.

The council recommended that the conference take action pursuant to CWC Article 12, which provides that the conference may “restrict or suspend the State Party’s rights and privileges...until it undertakes the necessary action to conform with its obligations,” at its next meeting if Syria failed to meet the deadline. In October, OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias confirmed that Syria had not made progress toward meeting any of the mandates, setting the stage for this month’s action.

Joanna Roper, the UK ambassador to the organization, said the decision was “a measured response” to uphold the CWC provisions and the integrity of the oversight organization. Rania Alrifaiy, Syria’s delegate, urged member states to “reject the fabricated allegations” and vote against the draft to prevent the OPCW from being converted into a political tool.

Arias said, “[T]he conference of the states-parties reaffirmed that the use of chemical weapons is the most serious breach of the convention there can be, as people’s lives are taken or destroyed.” He added, “By deciding to address the possession and use of chemical weapons by a state-party, the conference has reiterated the international community’s ethical commitment to uphold the norm against these weapons.”

Many of the countries voting against the measure expressed concern about the perceived politicization of the OPCW and the legitimacy of the IIT. Some states also took issue with the motivation behind the decision and the voting procedures.

Russia, in particular, complained that the organization and its investigators exceeded their mandate. Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s representative to the UN, alleged that the OPCW was being used as a political tool. “Our Western colleagues...attempt to mobilize public opinion against Syrian authorities with a sole purpose, and it is not about upholding the nonproliferation regime. It is all about regime change.” But other countries defended the impartiality and integrity of the organization’s technical experts.

The latest report considered various hypotheses as to how the incident occurred, including Syria’s claim that it was staged by terrorist groups. The investigation found those leads were “not supported by any concrete evidence” and appeared to be based on conclusions that involved materials the Syrian government did not share with the IIT, despite requests for access.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry condemned the report and “categorically denies its use of poison gas in the town of Saraqib or any other Syrian town or village.”

During the April conference, 58 member states also issued a joint statement that “condemn[ed] in the strongest possible terms the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon in the Russian Federation against Alexei Navalny,” the Russian political dissident who was attacked in August 2020 on a domestic airplane flight in Russia. They reaffirmed that “any poisoning of an individual with a nerve agent is considered use of a chemical weapon” and that “the use of chemical weapons anywhere, at any time, by anyone, under any circumstances is unacceptable and contravenes international standards and norms against such use.”

The OPCW collected biomedical samples from Navalny in September and determined he had been exposed to a toxic chemical of the Novichok family.

Novichok is a form of nerve agent, and certain Novichok agents are included on the CWC Schedule 1 annex on chemicals, which demarcates those chemicals as banned under the treaty. The agent that sickened Navalny is not included on that list, but the use of any chemical as a weapon is expressly prohibited by the CWC.

The 58 states committed to stay engaged with the issue until the OPCW investigation into Navalny’s poisoning is resolved. “It is our firm conviction that those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable,” the members concluded. The OPCW Executive Council is due to meet July 6–9, when Navalny’s poisoning will again be discussed.

For the first time, member states of the world's chemical weapons watchdog have suspended a state's rights under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

U.S. Lodges Arms Control, Nonproliferation Concerns


May 2021
By Shannon Bugos and Julia Masterson

Russia, China, and Iran are failing to fully comply with treaties related to nuclear and chemical weapons, the U.S. State Department said in a report released April 15.

Russia last conducted a full-scale nuclear test blast at its former test site on the island of Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic Sea in 1990. In 1991, Moscow declared a nuclear test moratorium. The U.K.’s last nuclear test was conducted in 1991; the United States halted nuclear testing in 1992; France and China suspended nuclear testing in 1996, the year the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty opened for signature. All five states have signed the CTBT. Of the five, only France has formally closed its test site. (Photo: NASA) This marks the first publication of the annual compliance report under the Biden administration, although it covers activities during 2020, under the Trump administration.

In particular, the State Department said that Russia has continued to undertake activities that are inconsistent with the “zero yield” standard regarding nuclear testing, established through negotiations on the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibits all nuclear test explosions regardless of yield.

“Russia has conducted nuclear weapons experiments that have created nuclear yield and are not consistent with the U.S. ‘zero-yield’ standard,” the report stated, reaffirming a finding reflected in previous reports. It added that “Russia’s development of new warhead designs and overall stockpile management efforts have been enhanced by its approach to nuclear weapons-related experiments.”

Critical further details about the Biden administration’s understanding of the Russian program were not revealed in the public report but presumably are spelled out in the classified annex.
The State Department added that its concerns were suspended for activities occurring in 2020 “because Russia’s activities may have been curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The report once again called attention to possible nuclear testing activities by China, but the comments did not include the same information or allegations listed in reports from the Trump administration.

“China’s possible preparation to operate its Lop Nur test site year-round and lack of transparency on its nuclear testing activities” has informed those concerns, the State Department said.

In the 2020 compliance report, the State Department cited the “use of explosive containment chambers and extensive excavation activities” and interference with “the flow of data from the monitoring stations.” The latter assertion has been disputed by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. (See ACT, May 2020.)

In 2019, the Trump administration determined that China "probably carried out multiple nuclear weapon-related tests or experiments in 2018" but this year's report did not repeat that allegation. (See ACT, October 2019.) China signed the CTBT in 1996, but has not ratified the treaty.

The United States and Russia also signed the CTBT in 1996. Moscow ratified the treaty in 2000, but Washington has never done so.

In addition, the report expressed concerns that Russia is in violation of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty because it has limited the distance for observation flights over the Kaliningrad region to no more than 500 kilometers and it has prohibited missions over Russia from flying within 10 kilometers of its border with the conflicted Georgian border regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The report acknowledged a February 2020 overflight by the United States, Estonia, and Lithuania that traveled 505 kilometers, but said “Russia made clear in 2020 that it had not yet changed its standing policy” regarding the restriction.

The report noted that the United States is no longer a state-party to the treaty after the Trump administration withdrew in November 2020. (See ACT, December 2020.) As such, the treaty will not be included in the report going forward unless Washington decides to rejoin.

As for the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which the United States and Russia extended in February until 2026, the State Department certified Russian compliance with that pact despite some unspecified “implementation-related questions.”

On April 21, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova denounced the report, saying that its “lack of any conclusive evidence, its dissemination of blatantly false accusations, and suppression of Washington’s own imperfect compliance with arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament agreements relegate it to the category of information noise.”

The report asserted that the United States “continued to be in compliance with all of its obligations under arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament agreements,” highlighting only its concerns with the compliance of other countries.

In the area of nonproliferation, the State Department cited issues of noncompliance by North Korea with its obligations under Articles II and III of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003 and proceeded to develop a sophisticated nuclear and ballistic missile program. Even so, according to the report, “the denuclearization of North Korea remains the overriding U.S. objective, and the United States remains committed to diplomatic negotiations with North Korea toward that goal.”

On Iran, the State Department addressed the ongoing IAEA investigation into Iran’s past nuclear activities and the completeness of its safeguards declaration to the agency. Although that investigation pertains to Iran’s pre-2003 nuclear activities, the State Department said that “any intentional failure by Iran to declare nuclear material would constitute a clear violation of Iran’s NPT-mandated comprehensive safeguards agreement and would constitute a violation of Article III of the NPT itself.”

The State Department also referenced Iran’s breaches of compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and acknowledged that “Iran most likely pursued this phased approach [in violating the accord] in an effort to generate negotiating leverage with the United States and European participants in the JCPOA.” Iran began violating the agreement in 2019, one year after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the accord and reimposed a maximum-pressure sanctions campaign against Iran.

The report did not mention ongoing efforts between Iran and the United States to restore compliance and preserve the agreement.

Russia, China, and Iran are failing to fully comply with treaties related to nuclear and chemical weapons, according to a State Department report.

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