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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 Backs Off Iran Resolution


April 2021
By Julia Masterson

In early March and just days after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general reached a temporary agreement with Iran to help the agency maintain essential oversight of Iran’s nuclear program, three key European powers advanced a resolution to the IAEA Board of Governors that would have censured Iran on the safeguards issue. The states were later persuaded to withdraw the proposal out of concern it would undermine prospects for restoring compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

A meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors at the Vienna International Center in Austria.  (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)The three European members of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), circulated the draft resolution censuring Iran ahead of the quarterly Board of Governors meeting, which was held March 1–5 in Vienna. Their resolution expressed deep concern with Tehran’s recent steps to limit its safeguards arrangements with the agency that are mandated by the nuclear deal.

On Feb. 23, Iran announced that it would suspend implementation of the additional protocol to its comprehensive safeguards agreement and would reduce compliance with certain other monitoring mechanisms required by the accord. Tehran did so in accordance with a December 2020 law that obligates the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to rachet up nuclear activities in violation of the JCPOA until Iran’s demands for U.S. compliance with the JCPOA, including sanctions relief, are met. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

The additional protocol provides the IAEA with information and an expanded set of tools to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. It grants the agency further insight into all elements of Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle, permits inspectors to collect environmental samples from declared and undeclared sites, and allows the IAEA to conduct complementary access visits on short notice to investigate any instances of suspicious activity.

To prevent the planned suspension from becoming a full-blown safeguards crisis, IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi traveled to Tehran on Feb. 21, ahead of Iran’s announcement. With Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri and Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the AEOI, the three reached a temporary bilateral arrangement whereby the agency can continue certain additional verification activities in Iran for three months. Iran will gather and store certain information during that time and provide it to the agency if sanctions relief is granted.

Iran’s decision to reduce monitoring marked its most recent step and one of the most significant steps taken to limit compliance with the JCPOA since the United States withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed stringent economic sanctions on Iran. Tehran began violating the deal one year later, in 2019, but maintains that all breaches of the accord, including its reduction in monitoring, will be reversed if JCPOA sanctions are lifted.

The European draft resolution condemned Iran for suspending the additional protocol and further called on Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA investigation into certain outstanding issues related to Iran’s comprehensive safeguards agreement. Those outstanding issues were detailed in a Feb. 23 IAEA report stemming from an ongoing, multiyear agency investigation into Iran’s pre-2003 nuclear activities and are separate from the nuclear deal.

Several states, including members of the European Union, opposed the European draft resolution because it married Iran’s legal obligation to comply with IAEA investigations into its past nuclear activities with its steps taken under the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Tehran vehemently opposed the draft resolution and, in a paper submitted to the IAEA Board of Governors, warned that adoption of the resolution would signal an end to the temporary monitoring arrangement between Iran and the IAEA. After the Europeans scrapped the resolution, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman remarked March 4 that “today’s development can maintain the path of diplomacy opened by Iran and the IAEA and pave the way for full implementation by all parties” to the JCPOA.

The outcome keeps open the door for Iran, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, Russia, and the United States to continue to try to reach agreement on a pathway to restore U.S. and Iranian compliance with the JCPOA.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif gave an interview Feb. 21 during which he affirmed that Iran remains interested in restoring the JCPOA, despite Iran’s planned reduction in monitoring.

“There is a path forward, with a logical sequence,” he wrote in a Twitter post that day, referring to Iran’s belief that the United States should commit to the JCPOA and fulfill its obligations under the deal, including by lifting sanctions. “Iran will reciprocate immediately by reversing its remedial measures,” he added.

According to diplomatic sources in Vienna, the United States played a role in convincing the Europeans to withdraw their proposed resolution, in part because the Biden administration signaled support for distinguishing between the IAEA safeguards investigation and Iran’s decision to suspend the JCPOA monitoring provisions.

Louis L. Bono, the U.S. representative to the IAEA, remarked in his March 4 statement before the Board of Governors that “while these safeguards issues are a separate topic [from the JCPOA], resolving them will also be essential for establishing confidence in Iran’s nuclear related assurances.” He said the administration “remain[s] ready to reengage in meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.”

A European resolution to censure Iran was withdrawn out of concern it could upset efforts to restore compliance with the JCPOA.

Biden Fills Key Arms Control Posts


April 2021
By Shannon Bugos and Julia Masterson

President Joe Biden continues efforts to fill key positions across his administration that will influence the future of arms control, support nonproliferation objectives, and determine the trajectory of the U.S. nuclear weapons budget, including modernization programs.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III greets Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Feb. 9.  (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders)Biden tapped long-time aide and confidante Antony Blinken to serve as his foreign policy point man. Blinken began his tenure as secretary of state Jan. 26, and the department has since contributed to the official extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia.

The president appointed Jake Sullivan, who served as then-Vice President Biden’s national security advisor, as national security advisor. In the first days and weeks after Inauguration Day, Sullivan worked closely with Blinken on the New START extension, and they have led efforts to fulfill Biden’s campaign commitment to restore Iranian compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Biden has nominated Bonnie Jenkins to fill the key position of undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs in January and sent her nomination to the Senate for consideration on March 15. If confirmed, one of the main tasks ahead for Jenkins, who is a board member of the Arms Control Association and former coordinator for threat reduction programs at the State Department under the Obama administration, will be overseeing bilateral talks with Russia on strategic stability and nuclear arms control, as well as guiding the U.S. strategy for the upcoming 10th review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The bureaus of arms control, verification and compliance and international security and nonproliferation at the State Department report to the undersecretary. The president has yet to make nominations for either assistant secretary position in those bureaus but has filled the deputy assistant secretary positions. In January, Alexandra Bell, former senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, became deputy assistant secretary for arms control, verification and compliance. Similarly, Anthony Wier, who previously worked at the Friend’s Committee on National Legislation as the lead lobbyist and director on nuclear weapons policy, took up the deputy position at the international security and nonproliferation bureau.

Biden tapped Robert Malley, who was previously president of the International Crisis Group, to serve as the administration’s Iran envoy. The White House also nominated Jung Pak of the Brookings Institution to the role of deputy assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs. Certain key regional State Department positions remain unfilled, including the assistant secretary for east Asian and Pacific affairs, the assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, and others.

Wendy Sherman, who played a leading role in negotiating the JCPOA as undersecretary of state for political affairs during the Obama administration, is Biden’s nominee for the key deputy secretary of state post. Her nomination was reported by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 11. She will be the first female deputy secretary of state if confirmed.

Meanwhile, the Senate confirmed Gen. Lloyd Austin, former commander of U.S. Central Command, as defense secretary Jan. 22 making him the first Black defense secretary. Kathleen Hicks, former senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to serve as deputy secretary of defense Feb. 8.

Due to his former position on the board of Raytheon Technologies, Austin has recused himself from all decisions related to the company. This leaves Hicks to oversee some key nuclear weapons programs involving Raytheon, including the fate of the intercontinental ballistic missile replacement program and the new nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missile.

According to a Feb. 24 report in Politico, Hicks has launched a review of several programs ahead of the Pentagon’s release of its fiscal year 2022 budget request, including the Department’s nuclear weapons-related programs.

Biden tapped Colin Kahl, who served as his national security advisor when he was vice president, to be undersecretary of defense for policy. The Senate Armed Services Committee held his hearing on March 4, but the future of his nomination remains uncertain.

Another key Pentagon post has been filled by Richard Johnson, who was sworn in as deputy assistant secretary of defense for countering weapons of mass destruction in March. During the Obama administration, Johnson served at the State Department working on the Iranian nuclear issue and on the National Security Council (NSC) as director for nonproliferation. In January, Leonor Tomero, former counsel for the House Armed Services Committee, was tapped to serve as deputy assistant director for nuclear and missile defense programs.

Laura Holgate was called on to lead a 60-day strategic planning process for the NSC, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, where she is the vice president for materials risk management. Holgate previously served as the senior director for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction on the NSC during the Obama administration.

In her new role, Holgate will work closely with Mallory Stewart, who joined the NSC as senior director for arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation. Stewart was previously deputy assistant secretary of state for emerging security challenges and defense policy during President Barack Obama’s second term.

Overall, nominations and confirmations for positions in the Biden administration are moving at a pace not unusual as compared to the two previous administrations, during which these Senate-confirmed positions took anywhere from one to six months to be filled once a nomination was put forward.

This set of veteran arms control and nonproliferation officials will lead offices in the State and Defense departments and the White House central to U.S. efforts to address the daunting array of nuclear policy challenges now facing the Biden administration.

Some positions are filled but slow pace of appointments could begin to delay administration decisions on some nuclear policy issues.

Syrian Chemicals Stockpile Declaration Still Incomplete


April 2021
By Julia Masterson

Seven years after Syria acceded, under international pressure, to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and allow for the removal of its large chemicals weapons stockpile in the midst of a civil war, top international officials continue to warn that Syria’s declaration is incomplete, suggesting that the regime of Bashar al-Assad has withheld some prohibited items.

A UN-OPCW inspector collects samples on August 29, 2013 where rockets armed with Sarin struck Damascus' eastern Ghouta suburb. The findings helped push Syria to join the CWC and allow for the removal and destruction of the bulk of its deadly chemical weapons stockpile. Since then, chemical attacks resumed and Syria has failed to address lingering questions about the accuracy of its chemical weapons stockpile declaration.  (Photo: Ammar Al-Arbini/AFP via Getty Images)During a March 4 briefing of the UN Security Council, Izumi Nakamitsu, the high representative for disarmament affairs, told the council that only limited progress has been made toward resolving an extensive list of outstanding questions regarding Syria’s chemical weapons dossier.

Nakamitsu’s briefing bore a similar tone to that of Fernando Arias, who heads the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). “At this stage, considering the issues that remain unresolved, the Secretariat assesses that the declaration submitted by the Syrian Arab Republic cannot be considered accurate and complete,” the chemical weapons watchdog chief relayed to a March 9–12 meeting of the OPCW Executive Council.

In the years since the UN-OPCW operation in 2013–2016 to remove and destroy the bulk of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, reports of ongoing chemical weapons attacks attributed to the Syrian government against rebel forces and civilians have raised serious questions about the validity of the initial declaration. The OPCW Declaration and Assessment Team (DAT) was established in 2014 to resolve outstanding issues and verify the completeness and accuracy of Syria’s stockpile declaration.

The DAT has conducted 24 rounds of consultations with Syria in an effort to clarify inconsistencies with its declaration. In a statement on the Syria dossier, Arias told the Executive Council that, as of March 2021, 19 issues with Syria’s declaration remain outstanding, including the “unknown, potentially significant, quantities of chemical warfare agents” that have yet to be declared, as well as “indicators of three undeclared chemical warfare agents found in the samples collected by the DAT.”

One of those outstanding issues pertains specifically to the OPCW’s request that Syria declare its production or weaponization of a nerve agent at a certain chemical weapons production facility omitted from its initial declaration. The production, stockpile, storage, and use of nerve agent is explicitly prohibited by the CWC; although Syria was obligated to declare any such activities to the OPCW in 2013, it did not.

Arias shared that Syria sent a note verbale to the OPCW on March 9 suggesting that discussions were ongoing on that matter and whether chemical weapons were produced or weaponized at the facility in question. But, he said, “the Secretariat has assessed all available information, including explanations provided by the Syrian Arab Republic, to justify the presence of chemical nerve agents at this site.”

In his introductory statement to the council that day, Arias affirmed that “a review of all the information and other materials gathered by the DAT since 2014, including samples, indicates that production or weaponisation of chemical warfare nerve agents took place at this facility.”

Apart from the matter of Syria’s incomplete stockpile declaration, Arias also informed the council that the OPCW’s mandate for certain monitoring activities in Syria expired in 2020. A July 2014 council decision mandated that the chemical weapons watchdog install remote monitoring systems at several former chemical weapons production facilities in Syria. After inspectors made their final visit to those locations in November 2020, the OPCW advised Syria that those facilities should remain sealed pursuant to Syria’s chemical weapons destruction plan and the spirit of the CWC.

Syria’s noncompliance with the CWC and its failure to cooperate with ongoing OPCW investigations threaten to further weaken the global norm against chemical weapons use, but new efforts are underway to hold Syria to account.

The OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), which was established in 2019 to attribute instances of chemical weapons use in Syria, will issue its second report before this summer, Arias informed the council. Furthermore, in October and November 2020, the OPCW shared material for the first time with the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism (IIIM), which is a UN subsidiary mandated “to assist in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for the most serious crimes under international law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011.”

The partnership between the IIT and the IIIM was established in July 2020, when the Executive Council welcomed a memorandum of understanding between the OPCW and the UN body, which is responsible for collecting and conveying information that may be relevant for national or international courts and tribunals. (See ACT, September 2020.)

In February, a German court sentenced two former Syrian military officials responsible for committing crimes against humanity during the Syrian civil war. The landmark conviction could set a precedent for prosecuting Syrian government officials for the ongoing, illegal use of chemical weapons. Continued coordination between the OPCW and the IIIM could help to support those efforts.

Also, CWC states-parties may vote to take a number of steps to hold Syria accountable for the use of chemical weapons in violation of the treaty, to which it acceded in 2013. Citing Damascus’ failure to come clean on its stockpile declaration, most recently after being called to do so no later than October 2020, Arias told the council that, “on the basis of the information provided, it is up to you, states-parties, to decide how you wish to proceed.”

States convened Nov. 30–Dec. 1, 2020, at The Hague for the first session of the 25th conference of CWC states-parties. (See ACT, January/February 2021.) They will meet again April 20–22, where the Syria dossier is expected to feature in the discussions.

CWC states-parties may consider steps to hold Syria accountable for use of chemical weapons in violation of the treaty.

U.S. Sanctions Russia for Chemical Weapons Use


April 2021
By Julia Masterson

The United States imposed sanctions to punish Russia for the chemical poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. The Biden administration did so in accordance with the U.S. Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, which mandates that the White House impose a detailed series of diplomatic and economic measures against states implicated in the use of a chemical or biological weapon.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia are seen arriving at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on January 17, from Germany where he recovered from his August 2020 poisoning with a nerve agent. Russian police detained him shortly after he landed for alleged parole violations. (Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP via Getty Images) According to a State Department press release on March 2, certain sanctions will be imposed against Russia after a 15-day congressional notification period, pursuant to the act. Those include a termination of foreign assistance to Russia under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, a termination of certain arms sales to Russia, and a denial to Russia of any credit or financial assistance from the U.S. government, among other things.

The sanctions are to remain in place for a minimum of 12 months and can only be removed after that period if the White House certifies to Congress that Russia has met the conditions prescribed by the act, including by “providing reliable assurances that it will not use chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law and will not use lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals.”

Although the attack on Navalny occurred in August 2020, the Trump administration chose not to trigger the act upon reasonable determination that a chemical agent was used and that Russia was responsible. Navalny was poisoned using a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent on a domestic flight in Russia and was taken for medical treatment to Germany, where doctors and independent laboratory assessments confirmed the cause of his ailment. (See ACT, November 2020.)

Washington last triggered the act in 2018 in response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer, and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, United Kingdom, after toxicology reports revealed the Skripals were poisoned using a Novichok agent. Before that, the act was invoked only two other times: against Syria in August 2013 for the large-scale use of chemical weapons during the Syrian civil war and against North Korea in 2018 for the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, using a lethal nerve agent.

In a March 2 press release, the Treasury Department announced that the Office of Foreign Assets Control would sanction seven Russian government officials believed to have been involved in Navalny’s poisoning. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen remarked, “[T]he Kremlin’s use of chemical weapons to silence a political opponent and intimidate others demonstrates its flagrant disregard for international norms.” In doing so, the United States joined the European Union and UK, who imposed sanctions against those Russian officials and an involved Russian state research institute in October 2020.

As a state-party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), Russia is prohibited under international law from producing, stockpiling, or using chemical weapons. The treaty’s monitoring body—the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)—has undertaken a series of steps since Navalny’s poisoning to definitively determine responsibility for the attack in order to hold perpetrators accountable. The OPCW corroborated external analyses proving that a Russian Novichok agent was used against Navalny.

When Moscow requested technical assistance on Oct. 5 to support its own investigation into the incident, OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias told Moscow that the OPCW Secretariat was ready to deploy a team of experts to Russia “on short notice.”

Arias relayed the saga to the OPCW Executive Council, which met March 9–12. He said in his opening statement to the council that after alerting Moscow of three outstanding issues impeding a technical assistance visit by the OPCW, Russia sent a Dec. 16 letter concluding that the mission “no longer seemed relevant.”

The council comprises 41 member states charged with promoting implementation of and compliance with the CWC. Council membership rotates on a biannual basis.

During the March meeting, a group of 16 member states, led by Lithuania, released a joint statement condemning the use of a nerve agent against Navalny. Their statement reiterated that “the poisoning of Mr. Navalny using a chemical weapon is a matter of grave concern” for all CWC states-parties. They called on Russia “to disclose the full circumstances surrounding this confirmed use of a chemical weapon” and demanded that “the perpetrators of this attack must be held to account.” According to Vidmantas Purlys, Lithuania’s permanent representative to the OPCW, an additional 29 CWC states-parties not currently on the council pledged their support for the statement.

Arias did not confirm to the council whether the investigation into Navalny’s poisoning is still active, but the OPCW appears committed to appropriately addressing instances of chemical weapons use.

During a Nov. 30, 2020, session of the CWC conference of states-parties, Arias affirmed that according to the CWC, “the poisoning of an individual through the use of any nerve agent is a use of a chemical weapon.”

Poisoning of Kremlin-critic with Novichok nerve agent prompts censure.

Iran, US Remain Deadlocked on Nuclear Deal

Iran is “in no rush” to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said March 21 , as the United States and Iran remain deadlocked over the sequence of steps to restore the accord. While neither side wants to make the first move, Washington and Tehran appear to be exchanging views on the JCPOA indirectly. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters March 12 that “communications through the Europeans” enable the United States to “explain to the Iranians what our position is with respect to the...

Restoring the Nuclear Deal with Iran Benefits U.S. Nonproliferation Priorities

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Volume 13, Issue 1, March 15, 2021

Iran has systematically breached key limits imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced in May 2019 that Tehran would reduce compliance with the accord. Iran’s decision to violate the multilateral nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was a direct response to former President Donald Trump’s decision a year earlier to withdraw from the accord and reimpose sanctions in violation of U.S. obligations.

Iran’s nuclear program does not currently pose an immediate proliferation risk and there is no indication from U.S. intelligence that Iran has resumed weaponization-related activities, but its breaches are becoming increasingly more serious and difficult—if not impossible—to fully reverse.

While these breaches are troubling, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has gone to great lengths to keep the door open to restore full implementation of the nuclear deal and reverse Iran’s violations, if the United States lifts sanctions in compliance with its obligations under the accord.

Time is short, however, as both the Biden and Rouhani administrations face considerable domestic pressure opposing restoration of the accord. Neither wants to be perceived as making the first move or making a unilateral concession.

President Joe Biden’s failure to take early action to send a signal of U.S. good faith intentions also appears to have spurred debate in Tehran over whether or not he is serious about his stated approach of “compliance for compliance” to restore the nuclear deal, or if he intends to try and renegotiate the terms of the agreement.

Biden faces pressure from policymakers, particularly opponents of the JCPOA in Congress, to use the Trump administration’s sanctions to leverage additional concessions from Iran on a range of issues. This rhetoric further reinforces doubts in Tehran about Biden’s intentions to restore the deal. However, the idea that the Trump administration’s sanctions have created viable leverage to pressure Iran to make further concessions fails to take into account that U.S. credibility was severely diminished by Trump’s reimposition of sanctions in violation of the deal. There is little support for reimposed U.S. sanctions, which are perceived as jeopardizing an agreement that advanced global nonproliferation interests, and Iran has no interest in new negotiations until the nuclear deal is restored.

If the JCPOA collapses and Iran continues to ratchet up its nuclear activities, some U.S. allies and partners may join a U.S. pressure campaign, but the Biden administration would be hard-pressed to reconstitute the level of international support seen before the negotiations on the JCPOA. Russia and China in particular would be unlikely to support a pressure-based approach after Trump’s treatment of the nuclear deal, barring a clear indication that Iran intended to pursue nuclear weapons. Furthermore, Iran can also ratchet up its nuclear activities far more quickly than the United States could attempt to restore international support for sanctions and diplomatic isolation, giving Tehran its own leverage.

A quick, complete compliance-for-compliance restoration of the JCPOA remains the best option to roll back Iran’s nuclear program, create the time and space for future negotiations on a range of issues, and restore U.S. credibility.

The EU, as the convenor of the negotiations on the JCPOA, is the logical choice to coordinate steps by both sides to resume full implementation of their JCPOA obligations and appears willing to take on that role. Concrete action by the United States to support its stated preference for returning to the deal may help pave the way for an EU-led approach, but with increasingly serious violations of the JCPOA on the horizon and Iran’s presidential elections in June, time is short. It may behoove the EU to present a proposal of its own detailing the necessary reciprocal steps for the United States and Iran to meet their JCPOA obligations.

Failure to restore the deal risks Tehran taking further steps that increase the risk posed by its nuclear program and igniting a destabilizing nuclear competition in the region, both of which would set back U.S security interests and international nonproliferation priorities.

Maximum Pressure Triggered Nuclear Breaches

Under the 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. The United Nations Security Council also endorsed the deal in Resolution 2231 (2015), which lifted certain UN sanctions on Iran and levied restrictions on Iranian conventional arms and ballistic missile transfers.

Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018— despite acknowledging Iran’s compliance with the multilateral agreement and over the objections of key U.S. allies. Trump also ordered the reimposition of sanctions that had been lifted or waived under the JCPOA, violating U.S. obligations under the accord. From May 2018 until Trump left office in Jan. 2021, the administration continued to aggressively deny Iran any benefit of remaining in compliance with the nuclear deal and actively opposed efforts by the remaining parties to the deal to engage in legitimate trade with Iran and complete cooperative nuclear projects—even those that benefited U.S. nonproliferation priorities.

The failure of the remaining parties to the JCPOA to deliver on sanctions relief in the year after U.S. withdrawal drove Rouhani to announce in May 2019 that Iran would begin violating the JCPOA. He said Iran would continue to ratchet up its nuclear activities until sanctions relief in oil sales, banking transactions, and other areas of commerce were restored.

For nearly a year following Rouhani’s May 2019 announcement, Iran systematically announced new breaches to the JCPOA’s limits on uranium enrichment, research and development on advanced centrifuges, and stockpile size. Those breaches were carefully calibrated, overseen by IAEA inspectors, and were largely reversible, supporting Rouhani’s assertion that all JCPOA violations taken by Iran are about pressuring parties to the deal to deliver on sanctions relief and not intended to collapse the deal or impede a full restoration of the deal’s limits down the road.

In Dec. 2020, the Iranian parliament and Guardian Council approved a bill calling on the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to significantly ramp up certain nuclear activities in violation of the deal. That law, hastened by the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, went into effect Dec. 23. The actions required by the nuclear law, some of which have already begun, pose a more serious risk to the JCPOA. The new law, for instance, requires Iran to take significant steps to ratchet up its uranium enrichment program, such as boosting enrichment levels to 20 percent uranium-235—a purity Iran had not reached since 2013 when Tehran agreed to cap enrichment amid JCPOA negotiations. The law also includes new breaches, including suspending more intrusive monitoring activities and beginning the production of uranium metal, which would be more difficult to reverse.

To date, between the breaches announced in 2019 and steps taken in line with the Dec. 2020 legislation Iran has:

  1. Breached stockpile limits of 300 kilograms of uranium gas and 130 metric tons of heavy water;
  2. Enriched uranium above the 3.67 percent uranium-235 limit set by the deal;
  3. Operated advanced centrifuges in excess of the JCPOA’s limits and used certain models to produce enriched uranium in violation of the accord;
  4. Resumed enrichment at the Fordow facility in violation of the deal;
  5. Abandoned operational restrictions on its uranium enrichment program;
  6. Suspended the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement and JCPOA-specific monitoring measures (a special arrangement with the IAEA is in place); and
  7. Produced gram quantities of natural uranium metal and begun work on a uranium metal production plant (the plant is not yet operational).

(For more information on the status of Iran’s violations of the JCPOA see “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action At A Glance.”)

Heightened but Manageable Proliferation Risk—For Now

In total, Iran’s violations have increased the proliferation risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s activities to ratchet up its uranium enrichment capacity have reduced the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for one bomb from about 12 months (when the nuclear deal is fully implemented) to about three months, as of Feb. 2021. That breakout time will continue to shorten if Iran installs and brings online advanced centrifuges, as required by the 2020 nuclear law, and its stockpile of uranium enriched up to 20 percent continues to grow.

The Dec. 2020 nuclear law requirements stipulating that Iran stockpile uranium enriched to 20 percent and install and operate advanced centrifuges, in particular, accelerate the decrease in breakout. Iran’s advanced machines are much more efficient than the IR-1s to which Iran is limited to using under the JCPOA. The IR-2m centrifuge is estimated to be about three to four times more efficient than the IR-1 and the IR-6 an estimated seven to eight times more efficient. In total, if Iran operates 1,000 IR-2s (about half of which are already enriching) and 1,000 IR-6s (as required by the end of 2021 under the law), in addition to the 6,104 IR-1s already enriching uranium, Iran’s enrichment capacity will increase by about threefold.

Enriching to 20 percent also increases proliferation risk, as that level constitutes about 90 percent of the work necessary to enrich to weapons-grade (above 90 percent uranium-235). Once Iran has accumulated enough 20 percent enriched gas for a bomb, about 250 kilograms (or about 170 kilograms by weight), it could likely produce what is known as a significant quantity of nuclear material (one bomb’s worth, or 25 kilograms of uranium enriched to greater than 90 percent) in less than two months given its current enrichment capacity. As of mid-February, Iran had about 17 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent (by weight) and it intends to produce 120 kilograms (by weight) during 2021, suggesting that Iran will not reach a bomb’s worth of 20 percent material before the end of the year at the current pace.

The decrease in breakout time is a concern. But even if Iran decided to pursue nuclear weapons, it is unlikely that Iran would withdraw from the JCPOA and the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to produce just one bomb, particularly given that Tehran has never tested a nuclear device. Any such move would be met by swift international condemnation and the reimposition of sanctions. Iran has uranium enriched to less than 5 percent that, when enriched to weapons-grade, would be enough for a second bomb, but it would take another two to three months. Then Iran would need to covert and weaponize the material—a process that could take another year to 18 months.

The 12-month breakout time can be restored relatively quickly by reversing Iran’s breaches of the uranium enrichment limits—a process that could itself likely be accomplished in under three months with significant political will. Enriched uranium above the 300-kilogram stockpile limit can be quickly shipped out or blended down to natural levels, excess machines dismantled and stored, enrichment halted at Fordow, and enrichment levels dialed back to 3.67 percent uranium-235. Knowledge gained by operating advanced centrifuges is not reversible, but the excess machines themselves will be dismantled and stored under IAEA seal, so Iran will not be able to access them without inspectors knowing. Furthermore, the efficiency of the advanced machines can be taken into account in calculating and determining an acceptable breakout time in follow-up negotiations.

Work on uranium metal is more problematic. The JCPOA bans uranium metal production for 15 years because of its applicability to weapons development. While Iran claims it is pursuing uranium metal for reactor fuel, the knowledge gained would still be relevant to weaponization processes.

Though it is widely suspected that Iran experimented with uranium metal as part of its pre-2003 nuclear weapons program, it does not appear to have significant experience with large-scale production and much of the experimentation appears to have been done with surrogate metals. Restoring the JCPOA’s limits before Iran gains that valuable and irreversible expertise with metal production would benefit long-term U.S. nonproliferation priorities.

The risk posed by these breaches is further amplified by Iran’s decision to suspend the more intrusive monitoring mechanisms required by the JCPOA, including the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. Inspectors will still be in place and have access to sites where Iran produces and stores its nuclear material as part of Iran’s legally required safeguards agreement under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

However, the suspension of the more intrusive measures could create gaps in the IAEA’s understanding of Iran’s nuclear program, as the additional protocol gives inspectors regular access to all facilities that support the nuclear program and complimentary access to follow up on concerns about undeclared nuclear activities. Decreased access will make it more difficult to monitor Iran’s breaches of the deal and likely increase speculation about illicit nuclear activities.

Iran and the IAEA did agree to a special three-month technical arrangement Feb. 21—two days before Iran’s suspension of the measures—that will allow certain agency monitoring beyond Iran’s comprehensive safeguards agreement. Iran also committed to collect certain information relevant to the additional protocol—including tapes of continuous surveillance activities—and hand that information over to the IAEA upon sanctions relief.

Ideally, the hand-over of information will allow for inspectors to reconstruct Iran’s nuclear program during the three-month period and will mitigate any speculation of illicit activities in the absence of stringent IAEA oversight. However, the special arrangement is not a viable solution in the long term, particularly if any concerns emerge about illicit activities and materials, but it does manage the risk and buy time for diplomatic action to restore the JCPOA.

Restoring Mutual Compliance with the 2015 Nuclear Deal

Although Iran’s systematic breaches of JCPOA limits constitute serious violations of the agreement, the deal itself has proven to be an effective, verifiable arrangement when it is fully implemented. It is possible to restore the deal’s nonproliferation benefits—but only if the parties to the deal act swiftly to fully implement the JCPOA’s obligations.

There is no indication at this point that Iran is pursuing or intends to pursue nuclear weapons, but the violations have increased speculation about illicit nuclear activities and worn the patience of the European members of the deal. E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) frustration was manifest in a recent gratuitous attempt to censure Iran for its suspension of the additional protocol during the March meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors. While the E3 concern about the decrease in monitoring is warranted, pursuing the resolution risked the special technical arrangement and the space for Iran, the United States, and the parties to the JCPOA to meet to discuss restoring the accord.

Returning to full implementation of the deal will require coordination by the United States and Iran. Unsurprisingly, while both U.S. President Joe Biden and Rouhani support a restoration of the JCPOA and a mutual return to full compliance, neither wants to be perceived as acting first or unilaterally. Both appear interested in partaking in discussions facilitated by the EU, which the EU appears eager to do, but creating the necessary political conditions for all sides to accept an invitation remains a challenge.

Given that the Trump administration triggered this crisis—namely by reimposing sanctions in violation of the deal— and provoked Iran’s violations of the accord, further signaling by the Biden administration of U.S. good faith could promote an environment conducive to coordinating restoration of the nuclear deal. Biden’s failure to act early upon taking office in Jan. 2021 prompted concern in Tehran that the new U.S. president was not serious about restoring the deal as is, and that he might try to renegotiate it—a position unacceptable to Tehran.

To date, the Biden administration has insisted that it will not grant sanctions relief before talks on restoring full compliance with the deal. But the White House could take steps to signal good faith, such as reinstating waivers for JCPOA-required nonproliferation projects that would help facilitate Iran’s eventual return to compliance and more definitive action in support of humanitarian efforts. Such steps could help restore confidence in Tehran that Biden is serious about restoring the JCPOA and demonstrate that the United States acknowledges Rouhani’s efforts to keep the window open for diplomacy.

Failure to act swiftly risks the JCPOA collapsing. A collapsed JCPOA would have severe implications for regional stability and international security, as Iran’s program would be unrestrained and subject to far less monitoring at a time when the United States faces a significant credibility deficit.

Even in the absence of the accord, it is highly unlikely that Iran would make the decision to pursue nuclear weapons, but restricted IAEA monitoring and no limits on uranium enrichment would raise speculation over covert Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions. This could spur other states in the region to match Iran’s perceived nuclear capabilities or attempt a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities—an act that would only set back the program and be more likely to spur Tehran to pursue nuclear weapons to deter future attacks. Dissolution of the JCPOA would also significantly compromise the likelihood of Iran engaging in future nuclear nonproliferation agreements.

It is critical that the Biden administration not miss this window to restore the nonproliferation benefits of the JCPOA and use it as a platform for future diplomatic engagement.—JULIA MASTERSON, research assistant, and KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

 

Description: 

Iran has breached key limits of the JCPOA since May 2019, gradually increasing the proliferation risk posed by its civilian nuclear program. 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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E3 Put JCPOA at Risk, Luckily Cooler Heads in Vienna Prevailed

An exercise of restraint at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s Board of Governors meeting may have preserved the space for diplomatic efforts to save the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, in part due to efforts by the United States and others to sway Britain, France, and Germany from pursuing a gratuitous resolution censuring Tehran. The resolution risked jeopardizing the IAEA’s access to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities, as well as the already uncertain path toward restoration of the accord. The European members of the deal circulated a draft resolution ahead of the quarterly IAEA...

Iran Ratchets Up Nuclear Program


March 2021
By Julia Masterson

Iran has started production of uranium metal, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed in a Feb. 23 monitoring report circulated to its Board of Governors and obtained by Arms Control Today. According to that report, Iran began production on Feb. 6 at its Esfahan fuel-fabrication plant.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech during the inaugural session of the new parliament in Tehran on May 27, 2020. The parliament approved legislation in 2020 mandating that the government take certain steps to breach the limits of the 2015 nuclear deal in order to pressure the United States to return to the agreement and waive sanctions. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)Uranium metal production is prohibited by the 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), for 15 years. Iran’s most recent technical violation of the accord is significant due to the fact that Iranian scientists are not believed to have engaged in uranium metal work prior to the JCPOA. Technical knowledge gained through the process of producing uranium metal could be applied to nuclear weapons development and cannot be unlearned.

Iran first informed the IAEA of its intent to pursue uranium metal production on Jan. 12, 2019. Iranian officials stated their intent to design an improved type of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which runs on fuel fabricated from uranium enriched to 20 percent uranium-235. After several exchanges between Tehran and the IAEA, Iran notified the agency of its modifications to parts of the Esfahan plant aimed to accommodate research and development into uranium metal work. The IAEA inspected the facility on Jan. 10, 2021 and confirmed in a Jan. 13 monitoring report that the processes for producing uranium metal had been initiated.

The Feb. 23 IAEA monitoring report highlighted that Iran has produced only a small amount of natural uranium metal, meaning that the metal was not enriched.

Iran’s recent step to produce uranium metal was taken in line with its December 2020 nuclear law, which was passed in an effort to increase leverage on the United States to reenter the JCPOA and on all JCPOA participants to lift sanctions imposed against Iran. The law requires the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to rachet up Iran’s nuclear program over the course of 2021 if sanctions relief is not granted.

According to the law, Iran must install and operate advanced centrifuges, resume enriching uranium to 20 percent U-235, and produce 120 kilograms of material enriched to that level every year. The AEOI must also build a new heavy-water reactor and inaugurate a uranium metal production plant. Most significantly, the law outlines the suspension of Iran’s implementation of the additional protocol to its comprehensive safeguards agreement if sanctions remain in place. Iran announced the suspension on Feb. 23 after the conclusion of a bilateral monitoring agreement between Iran and the IAEA.

Since resuming enrichment to 20 percent U-235, Iran has accumulated 17.6 kilograms of the material at the Fordow enrichment facility. Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile now totals 2,968 kilograms of uranium in the form of uranium hexafluoride gas, comprised of 1,026 kilograms of uranium enriched to 2 percent U-235, 1,890 kilograms enriched between 2 and 5 percent, and 17.6 kilograms of material enriched to 20 percent. Iran has also produced 13.3 kilograms of uranium in the form of uranium oxides, 10.5 kilograms of uranium in fuel assemblies and rods, and 10.9 kilograms of uranium in liquid and solid scrap. Under the JCPOA, Iran’s stockpile is supposed to be limited to 300 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 percent U-235, or about 202 kilograms of uranium by weight.

Iran has also taken steps to implement requirements set out in the new law regarding centrifuges, the sensitive machines that enrich the uranium. On Dec. 2, 2020, Iran notified the IAEA of its intent to install three cascades, or chains, of 174 IR-2m centrifuges. The agency reported on Feb. 23 that Iran had installed two cascades and that installation of the third was ongoing. Iran informed the IAEA on Feb. 15 of its intent to install an additional two cascades. Once completed, Iran will have a total of six IR-2m cascades installed at Natanz.

At Fordow, Iran continues to enrich uranium using 1,044 IR-1 centrifuges. Iran alerted the IAEA on Feb. 1 that it would install two IR-6 centrifuge cascades to aid in the production of fuel enriched to 20 percent U-235.

According to the IAEA report, Iran is also installing cascades of IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges at Natanz, which are being transferred from the pilot fuel enrichment plant. As of Feb. 21, the IAEA verified that Iran had installed the IR-4 cascade and was in the process of installing the IR-6 cascade. The JCPOA limits Iran’s uranium-enrichment program to output from 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz, and the installation, operation, and accumulation of enriched uranium from advanced machines violates the accord.

Consistent with the requirements of the Iranian nuclear law, the government announced the construction of a new heavy-water reactor Jan. 11. Abolfazl Amouyee, spokesman for the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said the new “IR2M” reactor will be similar to the Arak heavy-water reactor. The law also requires Iran to eventually revert the 40-megawatt Arak reactor to its original design. Under the JCPOA, Iran has been engaged in efforts to modernize the reactor and convert it to a light-water design, which poses a significantly lower proliferation risk.

Had the Arak reactor been completed as originally designed, Iran would have had the capacity to produce enough plutonium for two nuclear weapons per year. If completed, reversion of the Arak reactor and construction of a new heavy-water reactor would pose a significant proliferation risk. As of Feb. 23, Iran has not pursued construction of the Arak reactor based on its original design. But its heavy-water stockpile grew 3.4 metric tons since the last reporting period and now measures 131.4 metric tons, which surpasses the JCPOA’s heavy-water limit by 1.4 metric tons.

Senior Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, maintain that each of Iran’s provocative steps are entirely reversible following full restoration of the JCPOA. But political tensions are rising, and the window for U.S. reentry to the deal may be narrowing.

On Feb. 5, the IAEA reported that samples taken from two previously undeclared facilities in the fall of 2020 revealed traces of radioactive material. Three unnamed diplomats briefed on the IAEA report told The Wall Street Journal the findings could indicate that Iran previously undertook work related to nuclear weapons. Although concerning, the ongoing IAEA investigation relates to Iran’s pre-2003 nuclear activities, and there is no evidence to suggest that Iran has pursued a nuclear weapons program while under the JCPOA.

 

Domestic law requires provocative actions designed to bring the United States back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.

North Korea Displays New Missiles


March 2021
By Julia Masterson

North Korea unveiled a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and a host of other missiles at its annual military parade on Jan. 14. The display of military hardware came only three days after the conclusion of the 8th Congress of the Worker’s Party of Korea, during which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to “further strengthen the nuclear war deterrent while doing our best to build up the most powerful military strength.”

The Pukguksong-5 SLBM introduced at military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea on Jan. 14. (Source: Rodong Sinmun)The display of North Korean ballistic missile technology comes as the incoming administration of U.S. President Joe Biden begins a review of U.S. policy regarding North Korea.

North Korea’s new SLBM, dubbed the Pukguksong-5, bears structural similarities to the nuclear-capable Pukguksong-4 and Pukguksong-3 SLBMs, which were unveiled in 2020 and 2019, respectively. According to Michael Elleman, director for nonproliferation and nuclear policy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and a leading expert on North Korea’s missiles, “These dimensional similarities indicate North Korea is still in the process of settling on a specific design for its next-generation SLBM.”

Elleman suggested in a Jan. 15 analysis for the website 38 North that he believes the Pukguksong-5 “remains on the drawing board.” The Pukguksong-5 is not known to have been tested, so its exact capabilities and specifications remain unclear. Elleman also noted indicators that suggest the Pukguksong-5 could be solid-fueled, based on its structural design.

North Korean state media published on Jan. 15 called the Pukguksong-5 “the world’s most powerful weapon.”

The Jan. 14 parade in Pyongyang also featured several short-range tactical missiles, including one that appears to have solid-fueled rocket motors. North Korea already boasts solid-fueled missiles, but ongoing development of those systems is demonstrative of North Korea’s progress toward refining that capability. Solid-fueled missiles are generally considered to be more strategic than liquid-fueled missiles because solid-fueled systems can be stored together and can be mobilized or launched in a shorter period of time.

North Korea did not reveal any new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) at the January military parade. North Korea remains committed to the development of a robust missile capability and appears focused on achieving a sea-based component of its nuclear arsenal.

In his report before the Congress of the Worker’s Party of Korea, which was held Jan. 5–12, Kim noted that North Korea’s national defense science sector is in the process of conducting research and perfecting a “new nuclear-powered submarine” and “an underwater-launch nuclear strategic weapon.” Although undoubtedly significant, these systems will take several years to complete and require extensive testing that would likely not go unnoticed by the international community.

In his report to the Congress, Kim further elaborated on his country’s progress toward building a reliable nuclear deterrent and a strong military. He highlighted developments in technology and noted steps undertaken to “miniaturize, lighten, and standardize nuclear weapons and to make them tactical ones.” He also remarked on the success of North Korea’s Nov. 29, 2017, test of its Hwasong-15 ICBM, which “declared with pride to the world the accomplishment of the historic cause of building the national nuclear force and the cause of building a rocket power.” (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

Kim also noted that North Korea’s national defense science sector succeeded in developing a “super large” multiple-launch rocket system, as well as “ultra-modern tactical nuclear weapons including new-type tactical rockets” and intermediate-range cruise missiles. He said, “This enabled us to gain a reliable edge in military technology.”

Kim was promoted to the rank of general secretary during the congress on Jan. 11. That title had remained vacant for the nine years after Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, died in 2011.

Between Kim’s remarks at the meeting of the Worker’s Party of Korea and the weapons displayed at the military parade, it is clear that North Korea’s capabilities are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Revelation of a next-generation SLBM suggests a test launch of that system could happen in the near future.

Kim also briefly remarked on relations with the United States in his report to the congress and stated that the “real intention” of U.S. policy toward North Korea “would never change,” regardless of who was in office. He named the United States as North Korea’s “principal enemy.”

It remains to be seen how Biden and his administration will approach the North Korea portfolio. The administration has given little indication of its diplomatic posture toward Pyongyang, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Jan. 19 that the administration intended to conduct a full review of U.S. policy toward North Korea once in office.

Close U.S. allies have expressed hope that Biden will continue denuclearization talks with North Korea. Notably, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Jan.18 that he believes Pyongyang seeks a security guarantee from the United States, in addition to normalized relations—two principles already agreed to at the summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018. During a New Year’s press conference, Moon also stated his personal view that Kim “clearly has a will towards peace, dialogue, and denuclearization.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael Elleman succumbed to cancer and died on Feb. 20. For more on his life and work, see the April 2021 issue of Arms Control Today.

As talks on denuclearization talks remain on hold, Pyongyang continues to develop its capabilities.

Security Council Discusses Syrian CW


March 2021
By Julia Masterson

A senior UN disarmament official kicked off a Feb. 3 Security Council meeting by urging unity among council members in defense of the global prohibition against chemical weapons use. Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, called on the council to ensure that instances of chemical weapons use are never tolerated.

UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, speaks at a UN Security Council meeting on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on Sept. 21, 2017 at the United Nations headquarters in New York.  (Photo: Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images)Nakamitsu briefed the Security Council on the progress of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) toward verifying the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and production facilities. Although the entirety of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile was destroyed shortly after its accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 2013, evidence implicating the Syrian government in the continued use of chemical weapons has surfaced in recent years. Most recently, in April 2020, the OPCW released an inaugural report by its Investigation and Identification Team finding the Syrian government responsible for a series of chlorine and nerve agent attacks in Syria in March 2017. (See ACT, May 2020.)

The OPCW has worked to clarify outstanding inconsistencies related to Syria’s initial stockpile declaration in order to ensure the eventual complete destruction of its chemical weapons and associated production facilities. OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias releases a monthly report detailing OPCW progress toward elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program.

In his most recent report, released Jan. 25, Arias noted that “considering the identified gaps, inconsistencies, and discrepancies that remain unresolved, the [OPCW] Secretariat assesses that the declaration submitted by the Syrian Arab Republic still cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance” with the CWC.

The January report indicates that Syria has failed to comply with the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team (DAT) and that 19 issues with Syria’s original declaration remain outstanding. In one noted instance, the DAT request to “declare the exact types and quantities of chemical agents produced and/or weaponized” at a specific chemical weapons production facility remains unaddressed by the Syrian government. Syria maintains that the facility in question has never been used for chemical weapons. The DAT was deployed to Syria again in early February 2021.

In her briefing to the Security Council, Nakamitsu called on Syria to cooperate fully with the OPCW to address those 19 outstanding issues to its declaration.

Nakamitsu further directed her plea to the members of the council specifically, noting “it is imperative that this council show leadership in demonstrating that impunity in the use of these weapons will not be tolerated.”

In the debate that followed Nakamitsu’s briefing, Security Council members toed the lines of their long-held positions on Syria’s chemical weapons program. Russia named Syria a “responsible partner,” but, reacting to the fact that Syria’s rights and privileges under the CWC will be up for debate at the spring 2021 meeting of CWC states-parties, questioned what benefits Syria would derive from remaining party to the convention. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

Syria’s representative remarked that a revocation of its rights and privileges under the CWC would represent a “hostile act par excellence” and stated that Damascus rejects efforts to undermine its initial declaration to the OPCW. The United States, the United Kingdom, and others overwhelmingly affirmed their support for the tone of Nakamitsu’s briefing and urged Syria to cooperate fully with the OPCW.

UN officials continue to report that they still cannot confirm the completeness of Syrian stockpile declaration.

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