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"...the Arms Control Association [does] so much to keep the focus on the issues so important to everyone here, to hold our leaders accountable to inspire creative thinking and to press for change. So we are grateful for your leadership and for the unyielding dedication to global nuclear security."
– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
Julia Masterson

Iran’s Illicit Arms Transfers Do Not Justify U.S. Snapback

A new report authored by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres details evidence of Iran’s likely violation of the arms-related and ballistic missile transfer-related provisions of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015). Resolution 2231 endorses and helps implement the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which the United States withdrew from in May 2018, and modifies UN sanctions on Iran. As the Trump Administration bids to strengthen its maximum pressure campaign against Iran, it will likely use the Secretary-General’s report as...

IAEA Board Passes Resolution on Iran | The P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, June 19, 2020

IAEA Board Passes Resolution on Iran The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors passed a resolution calling on Tehran to fully cooperate with the agency’s investigation into possible undeclared nuclear materials and activities from the pre-2003 period. The resolution , drafted by the three European parties to the 2015 nuclear deal (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), passed June 19 by a vote of 25-2 , with 7 abstentions and one country not voting. The United States supported the resolution, whereas China and Russia, also party to the nuclear deal with Iran, voted...

North Korea announces plans to boost nuclear deterrent | North Korea Denuclearization Digest, June 11, 2020

North Korea Announces Plans to Boost Nuclear Deterrent North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presided over a May 24 meeting of the Seventh Central Military Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea, who discussed national efforts to bolster the country’s armed forces, including “new policies for further increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country and putting the strategic armed forces on high alert.” According to a statement released that day by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), officials worked to refine a strategy to “reliably contain the persistent big or small military...

U.S. Aims to Extend Iran Embargo


June 2020
By Julia Masterson

The Trump administration is considering a range of options to prevent the October 2020 expiration of a UN embargo that restricts arms sales to and from Iran. If multilateral efforts to renew the embargo fail, the administration will likely attempt to argue that the United States remains a participant of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal so that Washington can exercise a Security Council provision to block the embargo’s expiration.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25, 2018. He has vowed a "crushing response" if the arms embargo on Iran is extended. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)The embargo’s expiration date is included in Resolution 2231, which endorses and helps implement the 2015 nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Under a resolution provision, listed participants of the nuclear deal are granted the ability to invoke a sweeping “snapback” of all UN restrictions that were lifted or would be lifted by the agreement, including the embargo. The United States formally abrogated the JCPOA in May 2018, but Resolution 2231 was never amended to reflect the U.S. withdrawal and still names the United States as among the JCPOA participants that have the right to invoke the snapback mechanism.

Reinstating sanctions and restrictions through Resolution 2231 would extend the embargo indefinitely. Doing so, by also reimposing all other UN sanctions and restrictions on Iran, would likely collapse the JCPOA and tie the hands of a future U.S. president seeking to return to the multilateral nuclear deal. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on May 6 that “Iran would never accept the extension of an arms embargo” and warned that “Iran will give a crushing response if the arms embargo on Tehran is extended.”

Earlier this year, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also threatened that Iran would withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty altogether if referred to the Security Council over its nuclear program and faced with the reimposition of UN sanctions. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Whispers of the Trump administration’s plan to claim participation in the deal in order to exercise the snapback mechanism began in late 2019, when an internal legal memo that circulated within the State Department reportedly detailed “a legally available argument we can assert that the United States can initiate the snapback process” under Resolution 2231.

Washington “will exercise all diplomatic options” to extend the embargo, said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 9, after receiving a congressional letter urging the administration to pursue diplomatic measures to prevent the embargo’s expiration. More than three-quarters of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed the May 4 bipartisan letter co-sponsored by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the committee’s ranking member. The House letter does not mention the JCPOA or the Resolution 2231 snapback process, but according to a May 4 statement by Engel, “[T]his letter, supported overwhelmingly by both parties in the House, represents an imperative to reauthorize this provision—not through snapback or going it alone, but through a careful diplomatic campaign.”

The administration has indicated it will pursue a standalone Security Council resolution establishing a new arms embargo on Iran first, but that measure will almost certainly be vetoed by one of the other four JCPOA participants who have permanent membership and veto power on the UN Security Council.

In that case, the United States has hinted its intent to invoke the snapback provision in Resolution 2231, which cannot be vetoed. The State Department’s special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, confirmed in a May 13 opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal that the administration drafted a standalone Security Council resolution to extend the embargo and is hoping it will pass, but said that “if American diplomacy is frustrated by a veto, however, the U.S. retains the right to renew the arms embargo by other means.”

The United States has not yet formally introduced its draft of a standalone resolution to the Security Council.
The Trump administration reportedly shared sections of that draft with European members of the nuclear deal
in February 2020.

According to Hook, “[T]he Trump administration’s preferred strategy is for the Security Council to extend the arms embargo while the U.S. continues to apply maximum economic pressure and maintains deterrence against Iranian aggression.” But, he said, if the United Nations “doesn’t renew the arms embargo against Iran, the U.S. will use its authority to do so.”

It is not clear whether the Trump administration’s move to reinstate sanctions through Resolution 2231 would succeed. Should the United States attempt to exercise the snapback mechanism and unilaterally block the expiration of the arms embargo, it is highly likely that the remaining parties to the nuclear deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the EU) will strive to delegitimize the U.S. legal argument in order to preserve the JCPOA.

Although the Europeans appear to share Washington’s concerns about Iran’s arms trade, they have made clear they do not support steps to extend the embargo that could lead to the JCPOA’s collapse. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said on April 30 that Europe does not consider the United States a participating member of the 2015 nuclear deal. A second European official said the same day that France, Germany, and the UK would not condone extending the embargo through the Resolution 2231 snapback clause because “the arms embargo is a legitimate part of the JCPOA.”

Vassily Nebenzia, Russian ambassador to the UN, said on May 12 that the United States “has lost any right” to snapback UN restrictions under Resolution 2231. China’s UN mission bluntly tweeted on May 14 that the United States “failed to meet its obligations under Resolution 2231 by withdrawing” from the JCPOA and that “it has no right to extend an arms embargo on Iran, let alone to trigger snapback.” Together, statements from Russia and China make clear that Moscow and Beijing will counter any U.S. efforts to extend the embargo through a standalone resolution or through invocation of the snapback mechanism.

The Trump administration appears determined to prevent the expiration of the UN embargo, but if the United States fails to do so, many key restrictions governing arms sales to and from Iran will remain in place. Iranian arms sales to nonstate actors in Yemen and Lebanon will continue to be subject to U.S. and UN restrictions, even if the embargo expires as scheduled in October 2020.

 

United States Ends Sanctions Waivers

The Trump administration has announced it will terminate some key sanctions waivers that had allowed other nations to cooperate on certain projects with Iran outlined in the 2015 nuclear deal.

Companies working on modifications to Iran’s heavy water reactor at Arak have 60 days to wind down activities or face U.S. sanctions, according to a May 27 statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The waiver allowing Iran to import uranium enriched to 20 percent for its Tehran Research Reactor and to transfer out spent fuel was also terminated.

The United States had been issuing sanctions waivers allowing these projects to continue since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and reimposed sanctions on Iran in May 2018.

Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran is required to modify the unfinished reactor at Arak so that when operational it would produce annually far less plutonium than is necessary for a nuclear weapon. If the reactor were finished based on the original design, it would have produced enough plutonium for about two nuclear weapons per year.

Iran said in 2019 it would revert back to the original design of the reactor if cooperative efforts, which primarily include China and the United Kingdom, cease.

The agreement allows Iran to import uranium enriched to 20 percent to fuel its Tehran Research Reactor and requires Iran to ship out the spent fuel. The parties to the agreement are required to assist Iran in obtaining the necessary fuel. Iran is also prohibited from enriching uranium to more than 3.67 percent uranium-235 for 15 years under the nuclear deal.

In past statements announcing the renewal of waivers for these sanctions, Pompeo has highlighted the nonproliferation benefits of the cooperative projects. In October, Pompeo said the United States was issuing the waivers because the projects “help preserve oversight of Iran’s civil nuclear program, reduce proliferation risks,” and “prevent the regime from reconstituting sites for proliferation-sensitive purposes.”

In the May 27 announcement, Pompeo said that Iran has “continued its nuclear brinkmanship by expanding proliferation sensitive activities” so he “cannot justify renewing the waiver for these JCPOA-related activities.”

It is unclear what activities Pompeo is referring to. While Iran has taken steps to violate the nuclear deal in response to Trump’s reimposition of sanctions, Tehran has not announced any new actions to reduce compliance with the accord since the United States last renewed the waivers March 30.

Pompeo said the Trump administration would extend for another 90 days the waiver allowing cooperative activities at the Bushehr power reactor to “ensure safety of operations.” The Bushehr reactor was operational prior to the JCPOA’s implementation.

Waivers for several other cooperative projects were terminated in 2019.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

The United States may try to claim participation in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to ensure the continuation of a UN embargo against Tehran.

South Korea Tests New Missile


June 2020
By Julia Masterson

South Korea has furthered the development of its missile forces this spring, conducting two tests of the new Hyunmoo-4, which boasts an 800-kilometer range and an estimated payload capacity of 2 metric tons. The payload capacity is greater than any current missile in the nation’s arsenal. Although South Korea conducted both tests in March, news of the tests did not emerge until early May. South Korean media reported that just one of these flew successfully, and South Korean officials have not publicly confirmed or commented on the tests.

South Korea displays a Hyunmoo-2 missile system in 2017. The missile has served as the basis for a new missile with greater range and payload capacity. (Photo: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)The launches were conducted at the South Korean Agency for Defense Development’s Anheung test site. The missile’s specifications are unconfirmed, but analysts have estimated that the Hyunmoo-4 is solid fueled and similar in design to the Hyunmoo-2 missile, although with a considerably larger payload. The Hyunmoo-4’s payload capacity is made possible by a 2017 revision to U.S.-South Korean missile guidelines that eliminated a payload cap of 500 kilograms for missiles with ranges of 800 kilometers.

When South Korea joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in January 2001, it negotiated an agreement with the United States dictating that it would limit its ballistic missiles to a 300-kilometer range and a 500-kilogram payload. (See ACT, March 2001.)

Under the MTCR, members commit to control exports of missiles and related technology capable of delivering that payload a distance of 300 kilometers or more. South Korea’s adherence to MTCR guidelines marked an expansion of a 1979 U.S.-South Korean memorandum of understanding under which South Korea’s missile program was limited to missiles with a range of 180 kilometers and a 500-kilogram payload in exchange for U.S. assistance in ballistic missile development.

In 2012, Seoul and Washington reached a new deal whereby South Korea could extend the range of its missiles up to 800 kilometers while keeping the 500-kilogram payload. The new agreement also granted South Korea the option to increase the payload beyond 500 kilograms for shorter-range missiles. For example, a missile with a maximum range of 500 kilometers could carry a 1,000-kilogram payload, and a missile with a 300-kilometer range could carry a 2,000-kilogram payload.

The extended 800-kilometer range was sought by Seoul and Washington as an appropriate measure to offset the threat posed by North Korea’s ballistic missile development. (See ACT, November 2012.) But the revision did not go unnoticed by regional nonproliferation experts, who protested that the expanded range was counterproductive to long-term ballistic missile nonproliferation efforts. The amendment was seen as an MTCR exemption due to the fact that although South Korea’s missiles are indigenously built, U.S. assistance has bolstered South Korea’s ballistic missile development and U.S. assistance was offered in exchange for South Korea’s pledge to temper its missile program.

The U.S. Defense Department announced in August 2017 that Washington would again revisit the guidelines constraining South Korea’s missile program in order to shore up Seoul’s defense against Pyongyang. Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said at the time that “there is currently a limit on the warhead size and missiles that South Korea can have and, yes, it is a topic under active consideration.” In December 2017, in part motivated by North Korea’s sixth nuclear test that September, U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in formally agreed to lift the payload caps on Seoul’s ballistic missiles. The 800-kilometer-range limit remains in place. (See ACT, December 2017.)

Experts have recently speculated that although the Hyunmoo-4 meets the 800-kilometer-range limit, the missile’s booster could be used to develop a longer, medium-range missile with a lighter payload in the future.

South Korea undertook the Hyunmoo-4 test at a similar time to when North Korea conducted a set of short-range missile tests. North Korea launched its first missile test of 2020 on March 1 and proceeded to conduct three additional tests that month. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Pyongyang did not comment on the Hyunmoo-4 test, but did condemn a South Korean military exercise conducted May 6, a day prior to South Korea’s belated announcement of the Hyunmoo-4 test. In a May 8 statement published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, a spokesperson for North Korea’s armed forces criticized South Korea of warmongering and said the drill did “not help the efforts to defuse tension on the Korean peninsula.”

Amid these tensions, Japanese, South Korean, and U.S. officials met virtually on May 12 and 13 for the 12th round of trilateral defense talks. According to a May 13 Pentagon statement, the representatives discussed the ongoing threat posed by North Korean nuclear and missile provocations and reaffirmed their commitment to trilateral security.

South Korea debuted a new missile with a longer range and greater payload capacity.

Russia, China Skip Syrian Chemical Weapons Meeting


June 2020
By Julia Masterson

Russia and China boycotted a May 12 meeting of UN Security Council members and high-ranking officials of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held to discuss the findings of the OPCW’s April 2020 report that blamed the Syrian Air Force for three incidents of chemical weapons use in a rebel-held Syrian town in March 2017. (See ACT, May 2020.)

The meeting was originally intended to be held as a formal session to examine the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2118, which calls for the verified destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons and preceded the international effort to destroy Syria’s declared stockpile. Instead, council president Estonia opted to hold the meeting in a closed setting using teleconference communications. Syria, although not a council member, was invited to participate in the discussion.

Russia did not join the dialogue and criticized the private setting of the meeting. Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, said holding a meeting to discuss Resolution 2118 and the OPCW report behind closed doors contradicted “the slogans of openness and transparency of the Security Council” and “undermine[d] the prerogatives of states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention.” China abstained from the meeting without comment.

The United Kingdom criticized Russia’s absence, saying Moscow was politicizing the discussion of chemical weapons use in Syria and seeking to undermine the OPCW’s work.—JULIA MASTERSON

Russia, China Skip Syrian Chemical Weapons Meeting

U.S. Seeks Iran Arms Embargo Extension | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, May 14, 2020

U.S. Seeks Iran Arms Embargo Extension The United States is considering a range of options to prevent the October 2020 expiration of a UN embargo that restricts arms sales to and from Iran. Those options include making a legal case that the United States remains a bona fide participant of the nuclear deal with Iran that it withdrew from in May 2018 in order to use a Security Council provision to block the embargo’s expiration. The embargo’s October 2020 expiration date is written into UN Security Council Resolution 2231 , which endorses and helps implement the nuclear deal, formally called...

OPCW Blames Syria for 2017 Attacks


May 2020
By Julia Masterson

The new investigative team for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded in its inaugural report April 8 that Syria's air force was responsible for a series of chemical weapons attacks using sarin and chlorine in March 2017.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley holds up photos of victims of the Syrian chemical attack during a meeting of the UN Security Council on, April 5, 2017. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)The OPCW Investigation and Identification Team began its work in June 2019 with a mandate to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons use in Syria, which has continued throughout the Syrian civil war and despite the destruction of the vast bulk of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile following its accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 2013.

The OPCW began investigating instances of chemical use in Syria in 2014 through its Fact-Finding Mission, which was created as an impartial body mandated to confirm only the use or nonuse of chemical weapons. In 2015 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2235 establishing the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to attribute responsibility for the chemical attacks identified by the mission.

But after the JIM implicated the Syrian government in four of the six chemical incidents it investigated, Russia vetoed the extension of the UN Security Council mandate in 2017. (See ACT, December 2017.)

In response, the majority of OPCW states-parties sought new ways to continue investigative work and hold CWC violators accountable. In 2018, two-thirds of the OPCW Conference of States Parties voted to establish the investigative team. Now, the team continues the attribution work of the JIM under the sole authority of the OPCW, seeking to name the perpetrators responsible for the chemical attacks identified by the mission but not previously investigated by the joint UN-OPCW body. (See ACT, July/August 2018.)

The team’s first report focuses on chemical attacks on March 24, March 25, and March 30, 2017, in the rebel-held town of Ltamenah, Syria. Through interviews with witnesses, analyses of flight data, and other investigative methods, the team concluded that the Syrian air force released sarin on March 24 and March 30 and chlorine on March 25 from military airplanes and helicopters.

The team also identified a key chemical component linking the sarin dropped over Ltamenah to sarin produced by the Syrian government. During a 2017 JIM investigation into chemical weapons use in Khan Shaykuhn, Syria, inspectors compared recovered chemical munitions to samples retained in OPCW labs after Syria’s chemical weapons destruction and identified the shared presence of an impurity called phosphorus hexafluoride. The OPCW established that Syria uses phosphorus hexafluoride in its production of methylphosphonyl difluoride, which is a precursor chemical of sarin and creates the volatile nerve agent when combined with isopropyl alcohol and hexamine.

According to a JIM report released in October 2017, the OPCW regards the impurity as a “marker chemical” for methylphosphonyl difluoride produced in Syrian labs. During its investigation into the Ltamenah attacks, the team compared a sample of a munition recovered from the March 30 attack to the methylphosphonyl difluoride in Syria’s stockpile and found a strong correlation, indicating that the sarin used in Ltamenah was created using chemicals originating in the Syrian stockpile.

The team confirmed that the attacks could only “occur pursuant to the orders from the highest levels of the Syrian Arab Armed Forces” and that the commander in chief of the armed forces, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was the “lead decision maker.” The team also learned during its investigation that senior Syrian military officials involved with the country’s chemical weapons program were ordered March 21, 2017, to “prepare items for use in the defense of the Hama,” the area within which Ltamenah is located.

Following release of the report, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in an April 8 press release commended the team’s work and called on “other nations to join our efforts to promote accountability for the Syrian regime and uphold the norm against chemical weapons use.”

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic preventing an in-person meeting of the OPCW Executive Council, the German Foreign Ministry urged in an April 15 statement that the council meet at the earliest possible opportunity to “take up the case” of Syrian noncompliance.

Despite widespread support for the OPCW team, efforts by some nations to undermine the OPCW’s credibility and question its findings continue. In an April 9 statement broadcast by the Syrian Arab News Agency, the Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Ministry disputed the team’s findings and said that Syria “condemns, in the strongest terms, what has come in the report of the illegitimate so-called Investigation and Identification Team, and rejects what has been concluded in it, in form and content.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry also denounced the team’s findings, claiming on April 9 that the report’s authors are “accomplices in the consistent violation of the basic principles and procedures of objective and unbiased investigations stipulated in the CWC.” According to Wyn Bowen, a former weapons inspector who now heads the School of Security Studies at King’s College London, “Moscow’s statements and actions around the OPCW appear to constitute a concerted effort to undermine the CWC and norms against chemical weapons development, ownership, and use.”

Russia’s endeavors to systematically discredit the OPCW may pose a problem as the international community seeks to hold perpetrators identified by the team accountable for their actions. Given the chemical signature confirming that the sarin used March 24 and 30, 2017, was produced in a Syrian lab and the flight data attributing all three incidents to Syrian military aircraft, the team’s report leaves little room for doubt about the role of the Syrian government in the March 2017 chemical attacks.

The team’s mandate extends to some 33 chemical incidents in Syria that were identified in prior investigations by the Fact-Finding Mission and where perpetrators were not named by the JIM. The April 8 report marks the first of several attribution reports by the new investigative body.

Investigators identified Syria's air force as responsible for March 2017 sarin attacks against rebel-held communities in Syria.

Pandemic Disrupts Security Meetings


May 2020
By Julia Masterson and Shannon Bugos

The global spread of the novel coronavirus has thrown into disarray the schedule of numerous international convenings on arms control and nonproliferation planned for this year.

Argentine diplomat Gustavo Zlauvinen, the president-designate of the 2020 review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, speaks to the UN Security Council on Feb. 26. He announced in April that he was seeking to postpone the review conference until January 2021. (Photo: Evan Schneider/UN)One of the largest conferences that has been postponed is the 10th review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which will now take place no later than April 2021. (See ACT, April 2020.) Previously scheduled to begin April 27 at UN headquarters in New York City and last a month, the conference usually involves dozens of side events and the participation of hundreds of government officials from the 191 states-parties to the treaty, nongovernmental organizations, and meeting support personnel.

In a message dated April 17 to NPT states-parties, the president-designate of the review conference, Gustavo Zlauvinen, said, “Unfortunately, the lack of clarity surrounding when the current circumstances will end, combined with the number of General Assembly-mandated meetings that have been postponed, as well as the already heavy schedule of meetings for 2021, has led to significant constraints on the availability of rooms and conference services for the foreseeable future.”

Zlauvinen said that, “in light of those constraints, the only option that meets the requirements of States Parties between now and August 2021 is to hold the Review Conference at UN Headquarters from 4–29 January 2021.” He said he will seek a formal decision from states-parties to hold the review conference on those dates. Other options, he said, would require “significant downsizing, both in terms of the number of weeks for the Conference and the number of parallel meetings.”

The fourth conference of nuclear-weapon-free zones and Mongolia, scheduled to be held April 24, 2020, at the United Nations in New York, was also postponed. The group has met prior to NPT review conferences since 2005 to “analyze ways of cooperating that can contribute to achieving the universal goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.” Participation in the conference is open to states-parties of the five extant free zones and Mongolia, which declared itself a nuclear-free territory in 2000. (See ACT, October 2012.) According to UN General Assembly Resolution 73/71, the conference planned for 2020, when held, will focus specifically on enhancing “consultations and cooperation” among the nuclear-free states. The April 24 conference has not been rescheduled.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), located in Vienna, postponed its third Science Diplomacy Symposium likely until November. The CTBTO, which operates the International Monitoring System and data center to verify compliance with the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), holds this symposium every two years in order to highlight the CTBT’s contribution to international peace and security. The 2020 symposium aims to spotlight the value of increasing access to and use of scientific advice in policymaking and collaboration and cooperation between scientists and policymakers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) postponed the 35th meeting of its Advisory Group on Nuclear Security scheduled to be held April 20–24 in Vienna. The group is comprised of experts who collaborate with the IAEA director-general to strengthen IAEA efforts to deter, detect, and react to nuclear and radiological terrorism. The group meets two times each year.

In the conventional arms space, Carlos Foradori of Argentina cancelled the April working group and preparatory meetings for the 6th Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, which entered into force in 2014 and currently has 104 states-parties. The conference is still scheduled for August 17–21. As president of the conference, Foradori made the decision based upon UN guidelines and said he will develop “a plan that will allow our work to continue remotely in the intersessional period to ensure necessary decisions can be taken by [the conference] guiding the work of the next … cycle.”

Meetings regarding emerging technologies have also been modified due to pandemic-related public health restrictions, including the Berlin Forum on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, originally scheduled for April 1–2, 2020. Instead, the German Foreign Ministry opted to convene the meeting virtually, drawing participation by 300 governmental and nongovernmental representatives of 70 countries worldwide. A statement published April 2 by the ministry reminds that, “in times of crisis, it is crucial that we continue to address urgent issues through international cooperation.”

The forum met to exchange ideas on guiding principles for a future framework governing the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems. Participants discussed definitions of the human role in the use of lethal force and norms surrounding these systems. According to a readout of the virtual meeting published by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the ministry intends to detail key points from the forum and to hold a follow-up conference in November 2020.

The majority of international events and conferences scheduled for late May or later have not yet officially addressed whether they will still take place. The second part of this year’s session of the Conference on Disarmament, for instance, remains scheduled to begin May 25. A meeting of the group of governmental experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems
is still planned for June. But the United States has shifted the 46th Group of Seven summit on June 10–12 to a video conference due to coronavirus concerns. The heads of state summit was originally intended to take place at Camp David, Maryland.

The coronavirus has forced the delay or cancellation of a wide range of arms control and nonproliferation meetings in the months ahead.

North Korea Spurns Diplomacy With United States


May 2020
By Julia Masterson

Pyongyang is no longer interested in diplomatic dialogue with Washington, according to a March 31 statement published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). “We will go our own way. We want the U.S. not to bother us. If the U.S. bothers us, it will be hurt,” the statement asserted.

President Donald Trump speaks in the White House on April 28. He has reportedly reached out to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the coronavirus pandemic, but North Korea has said it wants no more nuclear dialogue.  (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)The statement, authored by the unnamed director-general of North Korea’s new Foreign Ministry for Negotiations With the United States, was written in response to U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s plea to world leaders at the Group of Seven summit in March to “stay committed to applying diplomatic and economic pressure over [North Korea’s] illegal nuclear and ballistic missile program.”

Days before the summit, North Korea announced on March 22 through the KCNA that U.S. President Donald Trump had penned a personal letter to leader Kim Jong Un offering support through the coronavirus pandemic. North Korea has rejected such assistance from the United States, but accepted humanitarian assistance from other states.

Pompeo’s remarks on the heels of Trump’s offer led Pyongyang to “misjudge who the real chief executive is” in the United States. According to the March 31 statement, “[H]earing Pompeo’s reckless remarks, we dropped the interest in dialogue with further conviction, but have become more zealous in our important planned projects aimed to repay the U.S. with actual horror and unrest for the sufferings it has inflicted upon our people.”

An April 14 statement published by the KCNA notes that North Korea’s recently implemented annual state budget calls for “increasing the capability of national defence, by adjusting and reinforcing the economy as a whole, and concentrating investment in the training of talents and developing science and technology.” Changes to the national budget are reflective of North Korea’s ideological drive for self-reliance and self-defense.

At a meeting of the 7th Central Worker’s Party of Korea in December 2019, Kim said that “the huge and complicated work of developing the ultramodern weapon system possessed only by countries with advanced defence science and technology presupposed [Pyongyang’s] own innovative solution in terms of the scientific and technical aspect without anyone’s help.” Kim announced North Korea’s planned possession of a “promising strategic weapon” that would guarantee the country’s sovereignty and right to existence.

North Korea’s criticism of U.S. calls for maintaining international sanctions and its declaration of intent to improve its military capabilities are likely designed to show the regime’s frustration with what it sees as the inflexible position of the United States on denuclearization and peace talks following the unsuccessful Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi.

North Korea also continues to test new missile systems, including on April 14, the eve of the birthday of the North Korea’s first leader, Kim Il Sung, and South Korea’s general election. According to preliminary assessments by the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, the round of tests on April 14 are believed to have been North Korea’s first launch of a cruise missile since June 2017.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency on April 15 that Washington “continue[s] to call on North Korea to avoid provocations, abide by obligations under U.N. Security Council Resolutions, and return to sustained and substantive negotiations to do its part to achieve complete denuclearization.”

Other U.S. officials, however, have downplayed the significance of the North Korean missile tests. Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley noted in an April 14 Pentagon briefing that the missile tests were not “particularly provocative or threatening” to the United States. Rather, he said they may have been “tied to some celebrations that are happening inside North Korea, as opposed to any deliberate provocation” against the United States.

Since announcing it would no longer be bound by its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing, North Korea has conducted five rounds of tests of shorter-range missiles in 2020. (See ACT, April 2020.) North Korea has not tested a long-range missile since ending its moratorium, but many independent missile experts assess that Pyongyang’s continued testing of its shorter-range systems are an indication that North Korea is also pursuing the further development of longer- and possibly intercontinental-range missiles.

North Korea has continued to test new missile systems and develop other new weapons as the United States aims to press sanctions.

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