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"I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them."

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
Julia Masterson

IAEA Report Demonstrates Urgent Need to Restore JCPOA

(UPDATED March 5) As the fate of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal hangs in balance, a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reveals that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile continues to expand. According to that report, "Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), GOV/2022/4, March 3, 2022," Iran is now closer than ever to having enough highly enriched uranium-235 that, when further enriched, would be enough for a nuclear bomb. The deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (...

Iran Nuclear Deal Hangs in the Balance


March 2022
By Julia Masterson

The United States and Iran are “potentially within days” of reaching an agreement to restore mutual compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Feb. 23. Negotiations in Vienna have made “significant progress” but some issues are still unresolved and “there’s very little time remaining to reach a deal given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances,” she told a press briefing.

As negotiations on reviving the Iran nuclear deal intensified, Rafael Mariano Grossi (R), director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), held talks with Ali Bagheri Kani, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, at IAEA headquarters in Vienna on Feb. 15. (Photo by Dean Calma/IAEA)The negotiators have produced a 20-page document with appendixes on sanctions, nuclear commitments, and implementation of the restored agreement, including sequencing and verification, according to an unnamed Iranian source in Tehran. That source, quoted by the website Amwaj.media on Feb. 15, said the document reflects “the whole deal,” but is still under negotiation.

Philippe Errera, France’s lead negotiator in Vienna, on Feb. 23 tweeted a photo of the apparent draft under consideration with the words “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” written across the top of the page.

Disagreements between Iran and the other negotiating parties (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) continue to slow the talks, which are aimed at restoring U.S. and Iranian compliance with the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Both sides appear to remain divided over issues of scope and verification, as Tehran is demanding broader relief from U.S. sanctions than Washington is willing to offer, and a formal guarantee against a future U.S. withdrawal from the accord. Even so, pressure is growing for a resolution because of Iran’s continued nuclear advancements, which could soon render it impossible to recapture some of the nonproliferation benefits envisaged by the JCPOA.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price warned on Feb. 14 that “at the current rate of Iran’s nuclear advancements, we have little time left, and that’s precisely because at a certain point very soon those nuclear advances will obviate the advantages that the JCPOA, as it was finalized in 2015 and implemented in 2016, initially conveyed.” The deal imposed a series of limitations on Iran’s nuclear activities that shrank its nuclear program and lengthened the time it would take for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade enriched uranium-235 for one nuclear bomb. “Time is very quickly ticking away,” Price added, as Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile continues to grow.

Negotiations to restore the deal began in April 2021, almost three years after U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the accord. Iran began to breach the deal’s limits in May 2019, and now, its nuclear program is larger and more sophisticated than it was before the nuclear deal was implemented. If talks succeed in restoring the accord, Iran will revert to the JCPOA’s limits in exchange for the United States recommitting to the deal and lifting certain sanctions.

The United States and Iran have yet to meet face to face in Vienna, but each has taken provisional steps toward compliance with the accord that could be perceived as a tacit concession to the other side.

According to an unreleased report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran informed the agency on Jan. 19 of its intent to close the Karaj centrifuge component manufacturing workshop in favor of a different facility. The Karaj workshop, which was the subject of a months-long impasse over access between Iran and the IAEA that threatened to upend JCPOA negotiations, is now closed, according to the agency. (See ACT, January/February 2022.)

The United States, for its part, moved on Feb. 4 to reinstate nonproliferation waivers that were mandated by the JCPOA but were lifted after the United States withdrew from the deal. As a result, cooperative nonproliferation projects can resume in Iran without penalty of sanctions. The waivers will “facilitate discussions that would help to close a deal on a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA and lay the groundwork for Iran’s return to the performance of its JCPOA commitments,” the State Department wrote in its report to Congress.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, the coordinator of the JCPOA, said, “I strongly believe an agreement is in sight” after a Feb. 14 phone call with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian. “The moment has come to make an ultimate effort and reach a compromise,” he added.

But, several challenges remain. Tehran has called repeatedly for the “total lifting” of U.S. sanctions on Iran, including those imposed on its ballistic missile programs and other military activities. The Biden administration has said it is only willing to revoke the sanctions that were lifted when the JCPOA was implemented and reimposed when the United States withdrew from the accord.

Yet an anonymous congressional aide cited by The Washington Post on Feb. 23 remarked, “Right now, there are enough changes in the draft deal that the administration is expected to declare that the new agreement is subject to INARA,” the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which authorized the U.S. Treasury Department to lift sanctions when the deal was first implemented. The aide’s assessment suggests the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Iran beyond those prescribed by the 2015 JCPOA could be up for consideration.

A source close to Iran’s negotiating team told reporters on Feb. 8 that Tehran had made a political decision presumably to return to compliance with the JCPOA and that Washington should follow suit. In a phone call to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Feb. 8, Amirabdollahian said the United States “needs to make a decision on lifting sanctions [and] show significant distance from [the] failed policies” of the Trump administration.

Iran insists that the Biden administration verify that the sanctions are lifted by providing a guarantee that the United States will not again withdraw from the accord under a future administration, as Trump did in 2018. Amirabdollahian told The Financial Times on Feb. 16 that, “as a matter of principle, public opinion in Iran cannot accept as a guarantee the words of head of state, let alone the United States, due to the withdrawal of Americans from the JCPOA.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Feb. 21 that if the United States cannot offer a political guarantee against withdrawal, Iran will accept an “inherent guarantee.” He suggested that means Iran will promptly begin to breach the JCPOA if the United States again withdraws and reimposes sanctions in the future.

Despite progress in Vienna, Iran’s lead negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani tweeted on Feb. 24, “No matter how close we get to the finish line, there is not necessarily a guarantee to cross it.”

Although some issues remain, negotiators seeking to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal say they are near agreement.

Experts Discover North Korean ICBM Base


March 2022
By Julia Masterson

The discovery of what is likely a new North Korean base for launching intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) is further evidence of the country’s expanding military capabilities and is heightening concerns that Pyongyang could soon end its moratorium on ICBM testing.

Located 338 kilometers north of the demilitarized zone and only 25 kilometers from the Chinese border in Chagang Province, the Hoejung-ni missile operating base will likely house a regiment-sized unit equipped with North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles, analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported in February. (Photo by Maxar Technologies)

 

The Hoejung-ni missile operating base is underground and just 15 miles from the Chinese border, a location that analysts surmise was chosen to deter preemptive strikes by the United States and other adversaries. A strike against the base would invariably affect Chinese entities, said Victor Cha, one of the analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who publicly identified the location in a Feb. 7 report.

They wrote that “[t]he Hoejung-ni missile operating base will, according to informed sources, likely house a regiment-sized unit equipped with [ICBMs].”

“[S]hould operational ICBMs not become available in the near term, it is likely that intermediate-range ballistic missiles will be deployed,” the experts added.

North Korea has not tested an ICBM since November 2017, but it launched the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile in January 2022, marking its first longer-range missile test in more than four years. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un imposed a long-range missile testing moratorium in April 2018, when he said that “we no longer need any nuclear test or test launches of intermediate- and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles.”

In all, North Korea conducted eight missile tests this year, prompting the United States to strengthen its sanctions and press the United Nations for increased international sanctions against Pyongyang. All except the Hwasong-12 were shorter-range missiles.

Reacting to what he called U.S. “hostile policy,” Kim announced via state-run media on Jan. 20 that Pyongyang would consider “restarting all temporarily suspended activities,” which include nuclear and ICBM tests. He warned that the military threat by the United States has reached “a danger line that cannot be overlooked.” In a Feb. 9 statement, the North Korean Foreign Ministry further boasted that North Korea can “[fire] a missile with the U.S. mainland in its range” and highlighted the “remarkable achievements” of the missile tests conducted in January.

Among those missiles tested were purported hypersonic glide vehicles, which North Korea launched on Jan. 5 and Jan. 11. North Korea claimed the tests involved hypersonic glide vehicles, which travel more than five times the speed of sound and feature an advanced maneuverable glide vehicle atop a ballistic missile that is capable of evading enemy defenses. But analysts at 38 North assessed on Jan. 18 that, in both instances, Pyongyang instead tested a maneuvering reentry vehicle, which, although still traveling at hypersonic speed, is less technically advanced than a hypersonic glide vehicle.

Maneuverable reentry vehicles operate in a functionally similar way to hypersonic glide vehicles and are designed specifically to evade ballistic missile defenses by shifting trajectories midflight.

North Korea’s advancing capability with maneuverable reentry vehicles could further destabilize regional security by posing serious challenges to U.S. missile defenses in East Asia.

North Korea claims to have tested a hypersonic glide vehicle once before, in September 2021.

Responding to North Korea’s Jan. 5 test, South Korea disputed the claim that it involved a hypersonic glide vehicle and argued that Pyongyang had not acquired the technology or mastered the capability to launch such a weapon.

Instead, the South Korean Defense Ministry asserted that the test involved a ballistic missile that could be intercepted by U.S. and South Korean missile defenses. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command issued a statement on Jan. 5 reaffirming that “the U.S. commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad.”

Sung Kim, the U.S. envoy for North Korea, discussed North Korea’s escalatory missile tests with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, Noh Kyu-duk and Funakoshi Takehiro, respectively, in Hawaii on Feb. 10–15.

The newly-identified base for launching intercontinental ballistic missiles is viewed as a sign of North Korea’s expanding military capabilities.

Talks to Restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action: Background and Resources

Body: 

For Immediate Release: Jan. 31, 2022

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director (202-463-8270 x107); Julia Masterson, research associate (202-463-8270 x 103)

Multilateral negotiations to restore U.S. and Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal are reportedly making progress. According to senior U.S. officials, the United States and Iran "are in the ballpark of a possible deal" to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement.

On Jan. 28, negotiators paused work to consult with capitals ahead of what could be a final push to reach a common understanding on a win-win outcome. The next few days and weeks may be critical if the talks are to succeed in resurrecting the accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The United States and its partners are concerned that “the pace at which talks are progressing is not catching up with the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances,” which have accelerated throughout negotiations. U.S. officials have warned that Iran could soon reach a ‘nuclear breakout’ threshold, meaning that it could produce enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb. At that point, although Iran would need to master several additional, complicated steps to build a viable nuclear weapon, the White House has alluded that the United States might consider alternative strategies.

The JCPOA, which was concluded in 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), verifiably blocked Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons and provided incentives for Tehran to maintain an exclusively peaceful nuclear program.

Following the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal in May 2018 and Iranian retaliatory measures that began in 2019, however, the agreement’s future is in jeopardy as Iran’s nuclear capacity continues to increase.

Promptly and simultaneously restoring U.S. and Iranian compliance with the JCPOA would help stabilize the current situation and prevent a major nuclear proliferation crisis in the region.

A return to full compliance with the JCPOA would also provide a platform for further negotiations on a long-term framework to address Iran’s nuclear program and would create space to engage with Iran on other areas of concern, such as regional tensions and its ballistic missile program.

News

Factsheets

Reports

  • The comprehensive "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action" report (August 2015) includes:
    • a summary of the history and status of Iran’s nuclear program,
    • a detailed summary and explanation of the JCPOA,
    • answers to more than two-dozen frequently asked questions, and
    • annexes on “Understanding ‘Breakout’” and “Iran’s Ballistic Missiles and the Nuclear Deal.”

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Description: 

Useful resources for media and others on the 2015 nuclear deal as talks progress in Vienna on restoring the agreement. 

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Iran Talks Enter Critical Phase

As the eighth round of talks to restore the 2015 nuclear deal continues in Vienna, negotiators are struggling to contend with one of Iran’s most difficult demands: a guarantee from Washington that the United States will not withdraw from the deal and reimpose sanctions, as former President Trump did in 2018. Delegations from Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom have gathered in Vienna for eight rounds of talks since April 2021, under the chairmanship of the European Union. The U.S. team is also in Vienna with an aim to negotiate U.S. re-entry to the nuclear deal, known...

NPT Nuclear-Weapon States Reject Nuclear War


January/February 2022
By Shannon Bugos and Julia Masterson

The five original nuclear-weapon states have pledged that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” in a rare joint statement intended to reduce tensions and avoid nuclear conflict.

Representatives of the five original nuclear-weapon states met for the first time in nearly two years in Paris in December. They reaffirmed their commitment to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). (Photo credit: Permanent representation of France to the Conference on Disarmament)“As nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences, we also affirm that nuclear weapons—for as long as they continue to exist—should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war. We believe strongly that the further spread of such weapons must be prevented,” China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States said in the statement, issued on Jan. 3.

The five are the only nuclear-weapon states recognized under the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and their pledge was among several coordinated steps taken in advance of the treaty’s 10th review conference, which was supposed to start Jan. 4 but has been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The principle that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” was articulated in 1985 by Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan and reaffirmed by U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin at their June 2021 summit in Geneva. At the last gathering of the NPT nuclear-weapon states in 2020, the United States balked over a proposal by China for a joint declaration on this principle.

Although the statement, coming at a time of rising international tensions, was welcomed by many experts, nuclear activists were quick to note the contradiction between the words and deeds of the nuclear-weapon states. “They write this ‘nice’ statement but doing exactly the opposite in reality. They’re in a nuclear arms race, spending billions on modernizing and constantly prepared to start a nuclear war,” tweeted Beatrice Fihn of the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

On Dec. 2–3, representatives from the five states gathered for the first time in nearly two years in Paris to reaffirm their commitment to the NPT and prepare for the review conference. The meeting produced a joint communiqué reaffirming their adherence to Article VI of the treaty and expressing support for “the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons with undiminished security for all.”

Article VI commits the countries to pursuing “negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

Non-nuclear-weapon states have long expressed frustration with the nuclear powers over their commitment to this treaty obligation, given the nuclear-weapon states’ expanding nuclear arsenals and nuclear weapons modernization programs.

Certain non-nuclear-weapon states have rejected calls to adopt additional obligations under the global nonproliferation regime until the nuclear-weapon states demonstrate clear progress toward compliance with Article VI.

The five NPT-recognized nuclear-weapon states are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Their December meeting was held to advance the P5 Process, which was established in 2009 to focus on such goals as increasing clarity about nuclear doctrines and strengthening strategic risk reduction.

According to the meeting communiqué, the five countries reviewed progress on issues related to the review conference. This included exchanging updates on their respective nuclear doctrines and policies, recognizing “their responsibility to work collaboratively to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict,” and communicating an intent “to build on their fruitful work on strategic risk reduction within the P5 Process throughout the course of the next NPT review cycle.”

On Dec. 7, the five countries also submitted to the review conference a working paper on strategic risk reduction, which they described as “complementary to the treaty’s overarching goals and… consistent with the nuclear-weapon states’ long-term efforts towards disarmament.”

The P5 Process last convened in person in February 2020. (See ACT, March 2020.) France chaired the process in 2021 and planned to continue that role through the review conference. The United States will take over as chair in 2022, although it is not clear when, given the conference postponement. (See ACT, March 2021.)

The five issue a rare joint statement on preventing conflict and arms racing.

Iran, IAEA Resolve Access Dispute


January/February 2022
By Julia Masterson

Iran has granted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to replace the cameras at a key site that manufactures components for centrifuges, easing a months-long impasse and averting a crisis that could have derailed talks to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

Director-General Raphael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, displays the kind of surveillance camera used to monitor Iran's nuclear program. (Photo by ALEX HALADA/AFP via Getty Images)Under the Dec. 15 agreement, the agency will install four new cameras at the Karaj facility before the end of 2021. According to a Jan. 3 tweet by Laurence Norman of The Wall Street Journal, installation of the cameras was completed "on planned timing." He cited unnamed senior sources. Data from the cameras originally installed at Karaj remain in Iran’s possession, but will be transmitted to the IAEA once the nuclear deal is restored.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said on Dec. 17 that the new cameras will help the agency “put the story back together” and retroactively reconstruct a timeline of Iran’s activities at the workshop since the four cameras originally installed there were removed in June, following an alleged sabotage attack on the facility.

“The agreement with Iran on replacing surveillance cameras at the Karaj facility is an important development for the IAEA’s verification and monitoring activities in Iran. It will enable us to resume necessary continuity of knowledge at this facility,” Grossi explained two days earlier in a press release.

The IAEA has not had access to the Karaj centrifuge workshop since February 2021. Even so, the cameras recorded data for the agency in accordance with a special arrangement reached between Iran and the IAEA to preserve continuity of knowledge after Iran suspended implementation of the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement on Feb. 23.

The special monitoring arrangement stipulated that Iran would transmit recorded data to the IAEA after the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is restored. The arrangement was originally negotiated to last three months, but was extended for an additional month in May. Although the arrangement nominally expired on June 24, Grossi said on Dec. 17 that the IAEA will service the equipment installed at other facilities subject to the special monitoring arrangement, suggesting the equipment remains operational.

The Dec. 15 agreement staved off the convention of a special meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors to censure Iran for failing to comply with the agency’s request for access to Karaj. The Biden administration had said it would convene such a session if the access issue were not addressed before the end of the year. A senior State Department official said in a Dec. 17 press briefing that the new access agreement was a “welcome step,” but warned that a board meeting will be “inevitable” if Iran fails to follow through.

After traveling to Tehran on Nov. 23, ahead of the quarterly board meeting, for talks aimed at resolving the access issue, Grossi said discussions were “inconclusive.” One day later, he warned that the IAEA was “close” to the point where it would be unable to maintain continuity of knowledge. (See ACT, December 2021.)

Although the access agreement solved the IAEA’s most urgent concern about Karaj, a key question remains unanswered. Iran removed the cameras from the workshop after they were damaged by an apparent sabotage attack on the site on June 23 that Tehran blames on Israel. Iran did not permit the IAEA to examine the equipment until Sept. 4, when the agency found the data storage unit was missing from one camera.

The IAEA continues to press Iran for information. Grossi said the IAEA doubts the camera’s data storage unit vanished, and he is “hopeful that they are going to come up with an answer because it’s very strange that it [disappeared].”

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran insisted in a statement on Dec. 18 that “the records were destroyed by sabotage.” Iran has suggested that the IAEA cameras may have been hacked by a foreign power to carry out the June attack and has cited its ongoing investigation into that incident as justification for stonewalling IAEA access to the workshop.

But Grossi sought to quell suspicions that the camera could have been used in such a way, saying “[T]hese cameras cannot be tampered with…[they] cannot be violated by anybody.”

“It is absurd to say that the IAEA cameras [were] part of some sort of sabotage,” he insisted.

The prolonged dispute over access to the facility, coupled with the IAEA’s already reduced presence in Iran, has driven speculation that Iran was diverting equipment from Karaj for malign use.

Iran resumed operation of the facility in August and accelerated production activities in November, according to a Nov. 16 report by The Wall Street Journal.

Concerns about the facility heightened after the newspaper reported that Iran had produced parts for more than 170 advanced centrifuges since August and after the IAEA verified the installation of new, advanced centrifuges at Iran's enrichment facility at Fordow.

On Dec. 1, the IAEA confirmed that Iran began enriching uranium using a chain of 166 IR-6 centrifuge machines at Fordow, an activity that is prohibited by the JCPOA. Asked by a reporter on Dec. 17 whether the new centrifuges were produced at the Karaj centrifuge workshop, Grossi responded that “it would be a logical conclusion.”

Iran granted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to replace cameras at a site that manufactures centrifuge parts.

Saudi Arabia Said to Produce Ballistic Missiles


January/February 2022
By Julia Masterson

Saudi Arabia is manufacturing ballistic missiles with China’s help, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment reported on Dec. 23 by CNN. Although Riyadh previously purchased missiles from Beijing, this is believed to be the first time it has produced them domestically, and the development is raising concerns about a new missile race in the Middle East.

Site at al-Dawadi near Riyadh, where Saudi Arabia is manufacturing ballistic missiles with China's help, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment reported by CNN. This satellite image was provided by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, where experts analyzed the data. (Source: James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey.)

 

 

Saudi Arabia is thought to be seeking to advance its missile capabilities to bolster its capabilities in Yemen, where the kingdom remains entrenched in a war against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.

Satellite images of a site near al-Dawadmi, west of Riyadh, suggest that Saudi Arabia is producing solid-fueled ballistic missiles, as evidenced by signs of a “burn pit” that is used to dispose of solid-propellant leftover from the production line.

The burn pit is “a strong signature” that the facility is manufacturing solid-fueled missiles, according to experts Jeffrey Lewis and David Schmerler of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Compared to liquid-fueled missiles, which are generally filled with a liquid propellant prior to launch, solid-fueled missiles are considered a greater strategic risk because they can be fueled and concealed or transported in one piece and fired on a moment’s notice.

In an Arms Control Wonk blog post on Dec. 23 analyzing the images, Lewis and Schmerler assessed that the site “appears to have been built with Chinese assistance.” The fuel production and test site is near the al-Watah missile production facility. The missile facility was first publicly identified by Lewis and his team in 2019, and the U.S. intelligence community later that year publicly confirmed that Saudi Arabia had expanded the al-Watah plant to include the rocket engine production and test facility near al-Dawadmi. (See ACT, March and July/August 2019.) The engine test stand observed at the site in 2019 closely resembles those produced by China, leading the open-source analysts to identify Beijing as a likely supplier of the technology.

U.S. officials across multiple agencies reportedly have been briefed by the intelligence community on large transfers of sensitive ballistic missile technology from China to Saudi Arabia in recent months, according to CNN. The specific model of solid-fueled missile being produced at the al-Dawadmi site remains unknown, but given Beijing’s assistance, it could be of Chinese design.

Saudi Arabia already possesses ballistic missiles purchased from China, including the 3,000-kilometer-range Dong Feng-3, which the kingdom displayed in 2014, and other Dong Feng-class missiles transferred from Beijing in batches since 2018.

The new missiles will likely carry conventional weapons, given that Saudi Arabia does not have nuclear weapons and is a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). But Riyadh is seeking to expand its civilian nuclear power infrastructure and may be constructing a new uranium-processing facility, known as Al-Ula, to produce yellowcake, also with Chinese assistance. (See ACT, September 2020.) Saudi Arabia’s small-quantities protocol safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is outdated and would not permit the agency to inspect a yellowcake production facility. Riyadh has denied the existence of the Al-Ula facility, but any activity there would go unmonitored by the IAEA, thereby raising concerns about potential covert nuclear operations.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in March 2018 that “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.” There is no indication that Iran intends to produce a nuclear weapon at this time, and negotiations to restore stringent limitations to Iran’s nuclear program under the 2015 nuclear deal are ongoing.

The United States has repeatedly refused to sell ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia, citing proliferation concerns and a commitment to remain within the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which seeks to limit the spread of ballistic missile technology. Although not illegal, China’s assistance to Saudi Arabia contradicts its vow to abide by the MTCR. China is not a member of the export control regime, but has pledged to voluntarily abide by its guidelines, which prohibit the export of missiles capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload more than 300 kilometers.

Riyadh’s new ballistic missiles are likely to alter the power dynamics in the Middle East and stymie efforts by the United States and others to build on the Iran nuclear deal by negotiating limits on Iran’s missile program. The development highlights the contradiction that “while significant attention has been focused on Iran’s large ballistic missile program, Saudi Arabia’s development and now production of ballistic missiles has not received the same level of scrutiny,” Lewis told CNN

Saudi Arabia is building ballistic missiles, according to CNN.

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