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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Julia Masterson

IAEA Head Notes No New Breaches by Iran | The P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert

IAEA Head Notes No New Breaches by Iran Iran has not taken any further steps to breach the 2015 nuclear deal after announcing its fifth violation in early January, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, told reporters in Washington Feb. 5 . Experts have taken this to mean that Iran has not installed additional centrifuges nor further increased its enrichment level after announcing Jan. 5 that it would no longer be bound by any operational limits of the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Grossi stressed...

North Korea Reiterates End to Test Moratorium | North Korea Denuclearization Digest, Jan. 30, 2020

North Korea Reiterates End to Test Moratorium North Korea will no longer observe its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing, a counselor to Pyongyang’s mission at the United Nations in Geneva said Jan. 21 . The April 2018 moratorium was designed to “build confidence with the United States,” but given that Washington “remains unchanged in its ambition to block the development” of North Korea, Pyongyang has “no reason to be unilaterally bound” by its past commitment, Ju Yong Chol said. The statement did not indicate if or when North Korea would resume nuclear or long-...

The US has a backup plan to kill the Iran nuclear deal. It could spark a crisis at the UN.

News Source: 
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist
News Date: 
January 30, 2020 -05:00

Iran nuclear deal: Why do the limits on uranium enrichment matter?

News Source: 
BBC News
News Date: 
January 14, 2020 -05:00

Kim Announcement Caps Tumultuous Year


January/February 2020
By Julia Masterson

North Korea closed the decade by announcing it would no longer be constrained by self-imposed moratoriums leader Kim Jong Un had followed since just before he first met U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018. At their Singapore summit that year, Kim agreed to refrain from testing nuclear weapons or long-range missiles. Unable to negotiate progress since, the two leaders have returned to issuing fiery rhetoric.

In more hopeful days, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un greet each other at their Hanoi summit in February 2019. Nearly one year later, their inflammatory rhetoric has resumed. (Photo: Vietnam News Agency/Getty Images)North Korea’s “powerful nuclear deterrent capable of containing the nuclear threats from the U.S.” would be placed on “constant alert,” Kim said at the fifth plenary meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea, held Dec. 28–31 in Pyongyang. “The scope and depth of [North Korea’s] deterrent will be properly coordinated depending on the U.S. future attitude towards the DPRK,” he said, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Citing Washington’s failure to ease its “hostile policy,” Kim declared that North Korea is no longer “unilaterally bound” to its commitments, alluding to a possible resumption of testing this year.

Taken with Kim’s mention of a “promising strategic weapon system” and an announcement that North Korea would be “chilling [its] efforts for worldwide nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation,” Kim’s speech at the plenary meeting suggests that North Korea’s nuclear weapons development may intensify in the new year.

Pyongyang’s decision to step further back from the negotiating table—where the conclusion of a North Korean denuclearization agreement with Washington was once possible—did not occur within a vacuum. In the last month of 2019, Washington and Pyongyang resorted to hostile rhetoric and provocative threats that further strained their already inimical bilateral relationship. A look back at the year in review indicates that both the United States and North Korea missed opportunities to make progress toward goals of denuclearization and peacebuilding agreed upon at the 2018 summit between Kim and Trump.

Kim and Trump met Feb. 27–28 in Hanoi, Vietnam, for the first time after the historic June 2018 summit in Singapore. In Hanoi, they discussed objectives enshrined in a joint declaration released after their Singapore meeting, namely denuclearization and peacebuilding on the Korean peninsula. According to North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho, the Hanoi summit ended abruptly after the Trump administration demanded “one more thing” of Pyongyang in addition to its offer to trade permanent dismantlement of uranium and plutonium production facilities at the Yongbyon nuclear complex for a partial removal of UN sanctions. At a news conference in Hanoi, Trump said North Korea wanted sanctions lifted “in their entirety” for partial denuclearization, signaling a clear disconnect between Washington and Pyongyang’s interpretation of the summit.

Kim remarked in an April 12 speech before the Supreme People’s Assembly that Pyongyang would entertain negotiations “one more time,” if Washington were to propose a third summit. The North Korean leader demanded that the United States amend its “methodology” to “lay down unilateral requirements and seek constructive solutions,” adding that Pyongyang had already initiated “crucial and significant measures,” referring to North Korea’s self-imposed moratoriums. Kim gave the Trump administration until the end of the year to change its negotiating stance, or the “prospects for solving a problem will be bleak and very dangerous.”

The two leaders met once more, in Panmunjom at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea on June 30, where they agreed to resume working-level talks.

Ahead of the subsequent round of talks, held Oct. 4–5 in Stockholm, Sweden, Vox reported that the United States would propose trading a three-year suspension of UN sanctions on North Korea’s textile and coal exports in exchange for verifiable closure of the Yongbyon facility and an additional measure—likely ending uranium enrichment. The offer appeared to build on what Ri Yong Ho disclosed was on the table in Hanoi and included, as the Trump administration demanded, an additional concession by North Korea.

While unconfirmed, this proposed exchange aligned with the Trump administration’s apparent shift in negotiating approach. Trump said in September he was open to a “new method” for talks, and, while Trump did not provide any details, North Korea’s chief negotiator Kim Myong Gil praised Trump for taking a more flexible approach. Until then, the Trump administration’s strategy had largely centered on demanding North Korea’s full denuclearization in return for sanctions alleviation.

Kim Myong Gil said that a new method was the “best option” and suggested that “second thought” be given to the possibility of a “step-by-step solution starting with the things feasible first while building trust in each other,” likely referring to North Korea’s preference for an incremental approach that exchanges steps toward denuclearization for actions by the United States to lift sanctions and address Pyongyang’s security concerns. While the details of the Stockholm meeting remain unclear, a spokesperson for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry described the talks as “sickening” in an Oct. 6 statement released by the Korean Central News Agency.

Just as after Hanoi, it appears that Washington and Pyongyang left Stockholm with vastly different takeaways from their working-level talks. Washington proposed meeting again two weeks later, according to an Oct. 5 press release published by the State Department. But North Korea’s foreign ministry, in the spokesperson’s Oct. 6 statement, said it was “not likely at all” that the United States could “propose a proposal commensurate to the expectations of the DPRK and to the concerns of the world in just [a] fortnight.” The Oct. 4–5 working-level talks marked the last formal diplomatic exchange between the United States and North Korea of 2019.

Though Kim’s year-end deadline for negotiations with the United States expired on Dec. 31, Kim acknowledged in his plenary meeting speech that North Korea “urgently need[s]” engagement with the international community for “economic construction.”

Kim did not entirely denounce the possibility of continued bilateral talks with the United States, but he warned that “the more the U.S. stalls for time and hesitates in the settlement of the DPRK-U.S. relations, the more helpless it will find itself.” North Korea could “never sell [its] dignity,” Kim said, reiterating Pyongyang’s long-standing refusal to concede its nuclear weapons program without U.S. concessions in return.

North Korea will no longer bide earlier unilateral commitments to refrain from nuclear and long-range missile testing.

North Korea, China, Russia Converge Positions


January/February 2020
By Julia Masterson

Russia and China proposed partially lifting UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea on Dec. 16, in an effort to reinstate a diplomatic process, according to the Russian news agency Tass. Ahead of the draft resolution’s release, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya said on Dec. 11 that “sanctions will not substitute for diplomacy. It is impossible to reach an agreement without offering something in return.”

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya speaks to the UN Security Council meeting in January 2019. He has advocated using fewer sanctions and more diplomacy as part of a threeway effort to ease international tensions about North Korea. (Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)Starting in 2018, China, North Korea, and Russia have held trilateral talks that have received less international attention than the stalled U.S.-North Korean diplomatic efforts to reach a settlement on denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula. The talks appear to have focused so far on converging the three countries’ positions to strengthen Pyongyang’s stance in negotiations with Washington. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Nov. 8 that the independent trilateral initiative should not be considered a substitute for the U.S.-North Korean dialogue, but the co-sponsored draft resolution purportedly calls for the “prompt resumption of the six-party talks or re-launch of multilateral consultations in any other similar format, with the goal of facilitating a peaceful and comprehensive solution through dialogue,” signaling Russia’s and China’s mounting interest in collaborating formally on North Korea’s denuclearization process.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui met with Russian officials twice in Moscow in November to discuss “international issues of mutual concern” and shared “views on the situation of the Korean peninsula,” according to statements issued by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. Choe met for the first time with counterparts in Beijing and in Moscow in October 2018.

Based on reporting by the South China Morning Post, initial conversations appear to have centered on gaining support for Pyongyang’s preference for reciprocal concessions, trading North Korean steps toward denuclearization for a gradual alleviation of U.S. and UN sanctions, as well as actions to address Pyongyang’s security concerns. According to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement released after the October meeting, “it is time to start considering the adjustment of the UN Security Council’s sanctions regime” against North Korea.

The Dec. 16 draft resolution reiterated this call and specifically recommended exempting from sanctions “certain industrial machinery and transportation vehicles which are used for infrastructure construction and cannot be diverted to…nuclear and ballistic missile programmes,” among other things. It also urged “further practical steps to reduce military tension on the Korean Peninsula and probability of any military confrontation by all appropriate means, such as, but not limited to, conclusion of agreements between military officials, and adoption of formal declaration and/or a peace treaty for the end of the Korean war.”

Faced with mounting pressure from Pyongyang, the Trump administration, which has long maintained that North Korea’s full denuclearization must precede sanctions relief, may be moving toward an increasingly more flexible negotiation stance. At a UN Security Council meeting on Dec. 11, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft noted that Washington “remain[s] ready to take actions in parallel, and to simultaneously take concrete steps toward this agreement” and added that the United States is “prepared to be flexible in how we approach this matter.” At the same meeting, a Chinese representative reminded that it is “imperative” that economic sanctions on North Korea be eased, and Nebenzya affirmed that progress is impossible for as long as North Korea is “told to unequivocally agree to all conditions that are imposed for the promise of future benefits.”

Nebenzya’s comments closely echoed those of Lavrov’s at the Moscow Nonproliferation Conference on Nov. 8, where he spoke on Moscow’s and Beijing’s preference for an “action-by-action, step-by-step” approach to North Korean denuclearization.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has held summits with Russian and Chinese leaders throughout 2018 and 2019 in addition to his two with U.S. President Donald Trump. Kim met Russian President Vladimir Putin once, in April 2019, and Chinese President Xi Jinping most recently in June 2019.

The three nations have been engaged in discussions while U.S.-North Korean diplomacy gains larger headlines.

BWC States Discuss New Technologies


January/February 2020

States-parties to the 1975 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) discussed the implications of emerging technologies and strategies to bolster emergency preparedness during their annual meeting in Geneva on Dec. 3–6.

The BWC bans the development or possession of biological weapons, but rapid advances in the biotechnology field require treaty participants to keep abreast of developments that could have military applications. The treaty has 183 states-parties and four signatory states. Only 10 states have not signed the treaty.

One expert recently stressed the BWC’s fundamental role in creating a global norm against the use of biological weapons. “Any government with any life science capability can now sequence and synthesize whatever it would like to do. Genomes can be engineered to give them new, potentially dangerous characteristics, transforming pathogens that are now benign into pathogens that have the ability to spread or be lethal,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health and Security at Johns Hopkins University, in Nov. 20 testimony before the Senate Armed Services emerging threats subcommittee. To adequately respond to genome sequencing and other emerging, destabilizing technologies, Inglesby advocated for governmental efforts to strengthen the BWC and its implementation by states.—JULIA MASTERSON

BWC States Discuss New Technologies

Iran Announces New Nuclear Deal Breach | The P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert

Iran Announces New Nuclear Deal Breach Iran announced its fifth breach of the 2015 nuclear deal Jan. 5, stating that it “discards the last key component of its operational limitations” put in place by agreement. In the Jan. 5 statement Iran said its nuclear program “no longer faces any operational restrictions,” however Foreign Minister Javad Zarif did say that Iran will still continue to “fully cooperate” with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Zarif’s statement implies that Tehran intends to abide by the additional monitoring and verification measures put in place by the nuclear...

Getting Iran's Nuclear Compliance Straight

News Source: 
Wall Street Journal
News Date: 
January 2, 2020 -05:00

Assessing the Risk Posed by Iran’s Violations of the Nuclear Deal

Sections:

Body: 


Volume 11, Issue 9
Updated January 29, 2020

(This issue brief was originally published December 17, 2019. It was updated to reflect Iran's fifth breach of the 2015 nuclear deal.)

Since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced in May 2019 that Tehran would reduce compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran has breached limits imposed by the agreement every 60 days. While none of the violations pose a near-term proliferation risk, taken together, Iran’s systematic and provocative violations of the nuclear deal are cause for concern and jeopardize the future of the deal.

Under the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran is subject to stringent limitations on its nuclear program and intrusive monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In return, the P5+1 (the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, the EU and, formerly, the United States) committed to waiving sanctions imposed on Iran. United Nations Security Council also endorsed the deal in Resolution 2231 (2015), which lifted UN sanctions on Iran and levied restrictions on Iranian conventional arms and ballistic missile transfers.

Despite acknowledging Iran’s compliance with the multilateral agreement, U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018. A White House press release issued May 8, 2018, condemned the Iran deal and cited Iran’s “malign behavior” and its support for regional proxies as an impetus for the U.S. withdrawal. Trump also ordered the reimposition of sanctions that had been lifted or waived under the JCPOA, violating U.S. obligations under the accord. Since May 2018, the Trump administration continues to aggressively deny Iran any benefit of remaining in compliance with the nuclear deal and is pressing the P4+1 to join Washington’s pressure campaign.

The P4+1 continues to support the JCPOA and engage in efforts to maintain legitimate trade with Iran, but the extraterritorial nature of the U.S. sanctions eliminated most of the benefits to Tehran envisioned by the deal. The P4+1’s failure to deliver on sanctions relief in the year after Trump’s announcement drove Rouhani to announce that Iran would begin violating the JCPOA, and would continue to breach limits every 60 days, until oil sales, banking transactions, and other areas of commerce were restored.

Since Rouhani’s announcement in May 2019, Iran has breached JCPOA limits on uranium enrichment, research and development on advanced centrifuges, and stockpile size. When announcing the fifth breach in January 2020, Iran stated that its uranium enrichment program no longer faced any restrictions. To date, the actions Iran has taken in violation of the JCPOA appear to be calculated steps designed to increase pressure on the P4+1 to deliver on sanctions relief and are not indicative of a dash to a nuclear bomb. While concerning, the breaches do not pose a near-term risk and are quickly reversible, supporting Rouhani’s assertion that Iran will return to compliance with the JCPOA if its conditions are met. Iran’s continued implementation of the more intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms put in place by the JCPOA further support the assessment that Iran is seeking leverage in negotiations with the P4+1 and is willing to return to compliance if its demands are met, not dashing for a bomb.

1) Breaching the Stockpile Limits on Enriched Uranium and Heavy Water

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared in a May 8 speech that Tehran would no longer observe JCPOA restrictions on its enriched uranium and heavy water stockpile. Rouhani said the decision was a reaction to the U.S. reimposition of sanctions and that “once our demands are met, we will resume implementation.”

The JCPOA caps Iran’s stockpile at “under 300 kg of up to 3.67% enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) or the equivalent in other chemical forms.” 300 kilograms of UF6 equates to 202.8 kilograms of uranium (Annex I, Section A, para. 7).

On July 1, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, announced that Iran exceeded that limit. A report released by the IAEA on the same day verified that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent uranium-235 totaled 205.0 kilograms, constituting Tehran’s first breach of the JCPOA.

Iran has continued to grow its stockpile since first breaching the limit in July. Most recently, the IAEA reported in November that Iran’s stockpile had reached 372.3 kilograms of uranium enriched to less than 4.5 percent.

At present, Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile continues to pose a relatively low proliferation risk, and its breach of the JCPOA stockpile limits has only marginally shortened the one-year nuclear breakout time established by the deal. To manufacture one nuclear bomb, Iran would need to produce roughly 1,050 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (under five percent uranium-235) and would then need to further enrich this material to weapons-grade (greater than 90 percent uranium-235).

However, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Salehi, has indicated that Iran intends to produce close to five kilograms of enriched uranium per day. If true, Iran’s stockpile could hit 1,050 kilograms in less than four months. The breakout time would be longer, however, as additional time would be needed to enrich the material to weapons-grade. The time it would take to reach weapons-grade would depend on how many centrifuges are use and the efficiency of the machines.

Iran did not breach the 130 metric ton heavy water limit until November. The IAEA reported Nov. 17 that Iran’s stockpile measured 131.5 metric tons. Heavy water, which contains the isotope deuterium, is used as a coolant in some types of reactors, including the Arak heavy water reactor currently under construction. Heavy water itself does not pose a proliferation risk. However, heavy water reactors are generally considered a proliferation-sensitive technology because they typically produce higher amounts of weapons-grade plutonium-239 in the spent fuel.

Both of the stockpile breaches are quickly reversible. Iran could easily blend down or ship out excess low-enriched uranium and sell or store overseas the excess heavy water.

If the 40-megawatt Arak reactor had been completed as originally designed, it would have produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for two bombs on an annual basis. Under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to collaborate on rebuilding and modifying the Arak heavy water reactor to mitigate the proliferation risk. (Annex I, Section B) Under the modified design, the 20-megawatt reactor will run on low-enriched uranium, resulting in the production of about a quarter of the plutonium-239 necessary to produce a nuclear weapon on an annual basis. Tehran also agreed to ship out the spent fuel from the reactor for 15 years.

In January 2016 the IAEA verified that Iran had removed and cemented the original reactor core and has subsequently reported that Tehran has not resumed construction on the reactor based on its original design. Iran threatened in July 2019 to resume activities at the heavy water reactor based on the original design, but given that work modifying the reactor continues, there is no proliferation risk posed by Iran’s breaching of the heavy water stockpile limit at this time.

If the United States ends sanctions waivers allowing cooperative work on the Arak reactor to continue, Iran may follow through on its threat to abandon modifications and resume construction on the original design. If so, it would still take years for the reactor to become operational.

2) Breaching the Limit on Uranium Enrichment

Behrouz Kamalvandi, Spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announced July 7 that Iran would exceed the 3.67 percent uranium-235 enrichment level imposed by the JCPOA for 15 years. (Annex I, Section F, para. 28). On July 8, Kamalvandi told reporters that Iran began enriching uranium to about 4.5 percent uranium-235.

The IAEA verified that Iran was enriching uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) to greater than 3.67 percent uranium-235 at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant July 8, according to an agency report released that day.

The IAEA’s Nov. 11 report indicates that Iran’s enriched uranium remains at or below a 4.5 percent uranium-235 enrichment level, and that of Iran’s 372.3-kilogram low-enriched uranium stockpile, about 159.7 kilograms have exceeded the JCPOA-designated 3.67 percent enrichment limit.

The extent to which this modest increase in the enrichment level poses a proliferation risk is dependent upon how many centrifuges are used for higher-level enrichment and how much material is stockpiled.

Uranium-235 is a fissile isotope that occurs in only 0.07 percent of naturally occurring uranium. Uranium enrichment is a process through which natural uranium, which is 99.3 percent uranium-238, after conversion into gaseous uranium hexafluoride (UF6), is enriched to increase the concentrations of uranium-235. Uranium enriched to less than five percent is typically used to fuel nuclear power reactors.

A sophisticated uranium-based nuclear bomb requires approximately 12 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium (greater than 90 percent uranium-235). The IAEA uses 25 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium as the threshold for a “significant quantity,” and given that Tehran has never produced HEU for a bomb, this higher threshold is likely a more accurate estimate of what Iran might need if it chose to pursue a nuclear weapon.

A large stockpile of low-enriched uranium, once amassed, would shorten the time needed to enrich up to weapons-grade. The quantity that Iran has produced to date is not considered a near-term proliferation risk. Though provocative, this breach is easily reversible and did not substantially shorten the one-year window of time that it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

3) Abandoning Limits on Advanced Centrifuges

On Sept. 5 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared that “all of our commitments for research and development under the JCPOA will be completely removed by Friday.”

Under the nuclear deal, for 10 years, Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile is limited to output from 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant. The deal allows for Iran to continue research and development (R&D) on a limited number of advanced machines for the first 10 years, so long as such activities do not contribute to an accumulation of enriched uranium.

Specifically, for 10 years after implementation (or until the year 2025), Iran is permitted to conduct R&D on a specified number of IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, and IR-8 model centrifuges. R&D on cascades of up to 30 IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges is only permitted 8.5 years after the deal’s implementation (Section G, para. 35-37).

The IAEA verified on Sept. 7 that Iran had installed or was in the process of installing 22 IR-4 centrifuges, one IR-5 centrifuge, 30 IR-6 centrifuges, and three IR-6s centrifuges. On Sept. 8, Iran alerted the Agency of its intention to install piping to accommodate two cascades: one of 164 Ir-4 centrifuges and one of 164 IR-2m centrifuges.

On Sept. 25, the IAEA observed that three cascades: one of 20 IR-4 centrifuges, one of 10 IR-6 centrifuges, and one of 20 IR-6 centrifuges “were accumulating, or had been prepared to accumulate, enriched uranium.” The IAEA also reported that the installation of 164 IR-2m centrifuges was ongoing. The IAEA later verified in November that operational cascades of 164 IR-2m and 164 IR-4 centrifuges were accumulating enriched uranium.

In October, Iran alerted the IAEA of its intention to install additional advanced machines, including new IR-7, IR-8, IR-9, and IR-s model centrifuges. Iran is permitted under the JCPOA to develop new machines using computer modeling but requires approval from the body set up by the accord to oversee its implementation before testing. Iran does not appear to have obtained that permission. Tehran indicated that these new machines, once installed, would be used to further accumulate enriched uranium.

Taken together, Iran’s actions breached both the R&D testing limitations and the prohibition on accumulating enriched uranium from advanced machines imposed by the JCPOA.

With advanced machines, Iran can enrich uranium faster and more efficiently. However, Iran’s initial introduction of a limited number of advanced machines for research and for low-enriched uranium production did not, by itself, constitute a near-term proliferation risk. Similar to Iran’s earlier steps to breach the accord, this action is also quickly reversible, should Iran choose to return to compliance with the accord. Iran will have gained knowledge about advanced centrifuge performance that cannot be reversed, but the advanced machines can be quickly dismantled and put in storage under IAEA seal.

Whether enrichment using advanced machines will pose a long-term proliferation risk is dependent upon the number of machines used and their efficiency, the level of enrichment, and the amount of enriched uranium accumulated. It appears that Iran intends to continue installing and operating advanced machines, but the efficiency of the advanced models is not reported by the IAEA.

The introduction of additional advanced centrifuges, coupled with enrichment to levels higher than 4.5 percent uranium-235 or resulting in a substantial accumulation of low-enriched uranium, would pose a heightened proliferation risk. At present, however, due to the relatively small size of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile and the small number of operating advanced centrifuges, enrichment using these models does not significantly shorten the time it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

4) Resuming Enrichment at Fordow

Rouhani announced Nov. 5 that Iranian technicians would begin injecting uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) into centrifuges at the Fordow facility. Specifically, Behrouz Kamalvandi said that Iran would enrich uranium using 696 of the IR-1 centrifuges at Fordow and use the remaining 348 for the production of stable isotopes. Iran requested that the IAEA monitor the resumption of enrichment.

Under the JCPOA, Iran is permitted to conduct uranium enrichment only at the Natanz Enrichment Facility. Fordow, where Iran once enriched uranium up to 20 percent uranium-235, is to be converted into a nuclear, physics, and technology center in accordance with the deal (Annex I, Section H). The deal requires the P5+1 to assist Iran with the conversion and the Russian nuclear energy company, Rosatom, was working with Tehran on stable isotope production.

According to a Nov. 11 IAEA report, a cylinder of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) was transferred from Natanz to Fordow Nov. 6. On Nov. 9, the Agency verified that Iran had fed UF6 into two cascades of IR-1 centrifuges and commenced uranium enrichment at Fordow.

The IAEA reported that Iran continues to comply with intrusive agency inspection and verification practices. If Iran increases uranium enrichment at Fordow or begins enrichment to levels greater than 4.5 percent, inspectors will quickly detect the deviations.

Enrichment at Fordow contributes to Iran’s growing stockpile of low-enriched uranium and the slowly decreasing window of time it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb. But similar to the earlier steps, it is quickly reversible.

While the increased enrichment capacity at Fordow does not pose a near-term risk, the international community considers the Fordow facility to pose a greater proliferation risk than Natanz because Fordow is nestled deep within a mountainous range and its location renders it relatively invulnerable to a military strike. While military action would only set Iran’s program back several years and would likely encourage Tehran to openly pursue nuclear weapons, U.S. presidents have repeatedly stated that the military option is on the table to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

While Iran has stated its intention to continue isotope production at Fordow, it is unclear if that work will go forward. After the breach, the U.S. Treasury terminated a sanctions waiver that allowed Rosatom to work with Iran on the Fordow facility conversion. On Dec. 9, Rosatom formally suspended nuclear cooperation with Iran, citing technical issues impeding collocated stable isotope production and uranium enrichment.

5) Abandoning Operational Restrictions

Iran announced Jan. 5 that its nuclear program will no longer be subject to “any operational restrictions” put in place by the JCPOA and that going forward Iran’s activities will be based on its “technical needs.” Zarif, however, specified that Iran will continue to fully cooperate with the IAEA, indicating that Tehran intends to abide by the additional monitoring and verification requirements put in place by the JCPOA. Zarif also said that, like the prior four breaches, the Jan. 5 measures are reversible if its demands on sanctions relief are met.

The extent to which this fifth violation increases the proliferation risk posed by the Iran’s nuclear program depends on how Iran operationalizes the announcement. Unlike prior breaches, Tehran did not provide specific details as to what steps it planned to take that would violate JCPOA limits. The Jan. 5 statement referenced the cap on operating centrifuges as the “last key component” of the nuclear deal’s restrictions that Iran was adhering to, suggesting that Tehran will breach the limit on installed IR-1 machines enriching uranium.

Under the JCPOA, Iran’s uranium enrichment is limited to 5,060 first generation IR-1 centrifuges at the Natanz facility (Section A, para. 1-7). The nuclear deal also permitted Iran to keep 1,044 IR-1 centrifuges at Fordow for isotope research and production. The IAEA confirmed in November that Tehran was still abiding by these limits on installed IR-1 centrifuges (as noted above Iran is enriching uranium at Fordow using some of the machines at that site in violation of the 15 year prohibition set by the deal, but the IAEA has not reported that Iran installed any machines in excess of the permitted 1,044 IR-1s).

Prior to the JCPOA, Iran had installed about 18,000 IR-1 centrifuges, of which about 10,200 were enriching uranium, and about 1,000 advanced IR-2 centrifuges, none of which were operational. Fordow housed about 2,700 of the IR-1 machines, of which 700 were enriching uranium. The remaining machines, including the IR-2s, were installed at Natanz. The JCPOA required Iran to dismantle excess machines and store them at Natanz under IAEA monitoring.

Iran’s statement that its nuclear program will now be guided by “technical needs” provides little insight into how many additional centrifuges Tehran may choose to install and operate in violation of the JCPOA’s limits, or if Iran will take other steps to further violate restrictions breached in 2019. Iran has no need for enriched uranium at this time; its nuclear power reactor at Bushehr is fueled by Russia and the JCPOA ensures that Iran will have access to 20 percent enriched uranium fuel for its research reactor. The Trump administration has continued to waive sanctions allowing the transfer of reactor fuels.

The ambiguity of Iran’s announcement gives Tehran considerable flexibility in calibrating its response. Slowly installing and bringing online additional IR-1 centrifuges to produce uranium enriched to less than five percent would keep Iran on its current trajectory of transparently chipping away at the 12 month breakout established by the JCPOA. This action would also be quickly reversible as Tehran could shut down excess machines in a relatively short time and then dismantle them to return to compliance with the agreement.

If Iran wants to ratchet up pressure more quickly, Tehran could further increase its enrichment level beyond 4.5 percent uranium-235, or more rapidly accumulate a large amount of low-enriched uranium. These steps would decrease more rapidly the window of time it would take for Iran to produce the fissile material necessary for a nuclear weapon and increase the proliferation threat.

The E3’s Decision to Trigger the Dispute Resolution Mechanism

The remaining parties to the JCPOA (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the EU) responded to Iran’s first four violations by condemning Tehran’s actions, but continuing to express support for the JCPOA. After the fifth violation, however, the E3 triggered the dispute resolution mechanism laid out in the JCPOA to address issues of noncompliance.

According to the process laid out in the JCPOA,

  • The Joint Commission, which is set up by the JCPOA to oversee implementation and is comprised of the parties to the deal, will have 15 days to resolve the issue, although that period can be extended by consensus. (It appears that the parties have already agreed to extend the time period, as the dispute resolution mechanism was triggered in January and the Joint Commission is not set to meet until mid-February.)
  • If the Joint Commission fails to address the issue, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs from the participating states have 15 days to resolve the issue, although that period can be extended by consensus.
  • Instead of, or in parallel to the Ministerial Review, an advisory board can be appointed to provide a non-binding opinion on how to address the allegation of noncompliance. The board will be comprised of three members, one appointed by each side of the dispute and a third independent member. The advisory panel has 15 days to deliver an opinion and the Joint Commission then has five days to consider it.
  • If, at the end of the process, the dispute is not resolved, the complaining party can notify the UN Security Council. The Security Council then has 30 days to adopt a resolution to continue lifting the UN sanctions. Failure to pass such a resolution snaps UN sanctions back into place.

The E3 have made clear that their intention is to resolve the dispute and preserve the JCPOA, so it is unlikely that they intend to refer the matter to the Security Council. Referral to the Security Council is almost certain to snapback of UN sanctions, which would collapse the deal.

The E3 calculus could change, however, if Iran reduces compliance with inspections or takes steps that significantly increase the proliferation risk posed by the nuclear program, such as resuming enrichment to 20 percent uranium-235 and stockpiling that material. These actions would increase the proliferation risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program and further negate the security benefits that the deal provides to Europe.

Iran threatened to pull out of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) if the E3 refer Iran’s breaches of the JCPOA to the Security Council. This step would be a significant escalation that would only isolate Iran and subject the country to international pressure. Even states such as China and Russia, which opposed the E3’s decision to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism and the U.S. pressure campaign, would likely join efforts to pressure Iran back into the NPT.

Implications Going Forward

While any breach of the JCPOA is concerning, Iran’s current nuclear activities do not pose a near-term proliferation risk. Though the window of time it would take for Iran to produce the fissile material necessary to manufacture a nuclear weapon is slowly decreasing, the JCPOA imposes a permanent prohibition on weaponization activities. Tehran also continues to comply with the IAEA’s intrusive monitoring and verification safeguards, including the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, allowing the agency to ensure with a high degree of confidence that fissile materials are not being diverted for weapons production and giving inspectors access to any site to investigate evidence of illicit activity.

While Iran’s systematic breaches of the JCPOA limitations are serious violations of the agreement, the objectives of the deal itself remain uncompromised. Iran’s nuclear program is, at present, exclusively peaceful, and poses far less of a proliferation risk than it did in 2013 when Tehran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium gas was more than 7,000 kilograms and it would have taken just 2-3 months for Tehran to produce enough weapons-grade material for a bomb. This gives the remaining parties to the deal time to continue working with Tehran to bring Iran back into compliance with the deal.

However, taken together and placed in the context of Tehran’s mounting dissatisfaction with the P4+1’s failure to offer relief promised under the JCPOA, a growing stockpile of low-enriched uranium, increased output from advanced centrifuges, and additional, fortified, enrichment facilities are cause for concern. Having already breached many of the explicit limitations and restrictions designated by the JCPOA, Iran’s next step to breach the deal in early January will likely compound the severity of its violations and jeopardize the future of the deal.

A collapsed JCPOA would have severe implications for regional stability and international security. Dissolution of the JCPOA would significantly compromise the likelihood of Iran engaging in future nuclear nonproliferation agreements and could also spur other states in the region to match Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Without the deal, the international community could be faced with a similar crisis to that which prompted JCPOA negotiations. It is critical that the remaining parties to the JCPOA continue efforts to deliver on sanctions relief envisioned by the deal and press Iran and the United States to return to compliance with their obligations.—JULIA MASTERSON, research assistant, and KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

 

 

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Since May 2019, Iran has breached limits imposed by the JCPOA every 60 days. While none of the violations pose a near-term proliferation risk, taken together, Iran’s systematic and provocative violations of the nuclear deal are cause for concern and jeopardize the future of the deal.

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