"I learned so much about arms control and disarmament at ACA! I learned more about arms control here in four months than I had in all three years at my college."

– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
Intern, Fall 2016
December 16, 2016
Julia Masterson

OPCW Presses Syria on Chemical Weapons

September 2020
By Julia Masterson

The Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) voted on July 9 to adopt a decision demanding that Syria cease all use of chemical weapons and come clean on its illegal arsenal.

Bassam Sabbagh, Syria's permanent representative to the OPCW, strongly criticized the agency's findings that Syrian forces were responsible for chemical attacks in March 2017. (Photo: Alexander Klein/AFP/Getty Images)The decision acknowledges that “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that Syria used chemical weapons, marking the OPCW’s most formal finding of a state in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) since the treaty entered into force in 1997.

Syria acceded to the CWC in 2013 and cooperated with international efforts to destroy its declared chemical stockpile, but horrific chemical weapons attacks have continued on an irregular basis since then and throughout the country’s ongoing civil war. The OPCW’s July decision was the international watchdog’s most strident response to Syria’s chemical weapons program since reports of these attacks first resurfaced in 2014. (See ACT, October 2014.)

The UN Security Council was scheduled to convene in August to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons program. A readout from this briefing has not been made public, but, coupled with the OPCW decision and recent investigations by the organization into chemical activity in Syria, renewed attention to Syria’s chemical weapons in multilateral forums has signaled an international commitment to enforce the country’s return to CWC compliance.

The OPCW Executive Council decision in July followed an inaugural April 8 report by the chemical watchdog’s new Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), which is tasked with identifying perpetrators responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The report attributed responsibility for a series of sarin and chlorine attacks to the Syrian Air Force after finding that sarin dropped over the town of Ltamenah, Syria, in March 2017 shared a unique chemical signature with samples of the nerve agent retained in OPCW labs after the destruction of Syria’s declared stockpile. (See ACT, May 2020.)

In light of these findings, the Executive Council’s new decision imposes a strict 90-day deadline for the Syrian government to declare the remainder of its stockpile, including all chemical agents, their precursors, and the facilities where chemical weapons are developed, produced, and stored. The decision also empowers the OPCW Technical Secretariat to conduct biannual inspections at Syria’s Shayrat and Hama airbases, which were identified in the April IIT report as directly involved in the March 2017 chemical attacks.

In his statement before the Executive Council’s 94th session in July, Bassam Sabbagh, Syria’s permanent representative to the OPCW, slammed efforts to attribute blame for chemical weapons use in Syria to the Syrian government. Damascus has consistently rejected OPCW findings of Syria’s ongoing involvement in chemical weapons attacks, including those outlined in the April IIT report.

The Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Ministry previously called the April report “misleading” 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 included in it, in form and content.”

Russia also condemned the April IIT report as flawed and untrustworthy, and China views the organization’s ongoing attribution work as an overstep of the CWC mandate. Neither country expressed great satisfaction with the Executive Council’s July decision.

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, tweeted on July 9 that “everything was politically motivated. This is another sign of further degradation of [the] OPCW.”

Fu Cong, who heads the Chinese Foreign Ministry Department of Arms Control, called the July decision “politically motivated” and “based on a flawed ‘investigation’” in a tweet also published that day.

The Executive Council’s decision was otherwise met by overwhelming support, including by the U.S. State Department, which applauded the decision in a statement published July 9.

In accordance with the decision, the OPCW director-general will report to CWC states-parties in October on whether Syria fulfilled the prescribed mandate. If Syria fails to do so, the Executive Council could recommend that states-parties vote to take action under CWC Article XII, restricting the country’s rights and privileges under the treaty.

Article XII offers a series of steps to redress a situation and ensure a country’s compliance with the CWC that ultimately ends in referral to the United Nations. Should Syria fail to meet the Executive Council’s 90-day deadline, the issue could soon be in the hands of the UN Security Council, which holds the authority to impose more significant consequences.

The July decision notably reaffirms the Executive Council’s position that perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks must not only be identified but also held accountable. It emphasizes “the importance of affording to the greatest measure of assistance in connection with criminal investigations or criminal proceedings in accordance with international law,” specifically relating to the chemical weapons attacks detailed in the April IIT report.

It also references the UN International, Impartial, Independent Mechanism (IIIM) tasked with assisting in the investigation of crimes committed in violation of international law in Syria since 2011. The IIIM lacks legal authority to prosecute those in violation of international law, but its mandate calls for the collection of evidence to support the criminal proceedings of those tried in national or international courts and tribunals. The Executive Council’s July decision welcomes a memorandum of understanding between the OPCW and the IIIM.


The OPCW Executive Council set a 90-day deadline for Syria to comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Explosion at Natanz Damages Centrifuge Production Building

An explosion at Iran’s Natanz enrichment facility appears to have been a deliberate attack that will set back the country’s ability to manufacture centrifuges. Speaking at a news conference July 6, Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), confirmed that the July 2 explosion occurred in a building at Natanz where Iran produces advanced centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium. The explosion did not impact the area of the facility where uranium enrichment takes place and the International Atomic Energy Agency said July 3 that its application of...

OPCW Rebukes Syria’s Chemical Weapons Program

A July 9 decision by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) Executive Council demands that the Syrian Arab Republic cease all use of chemical weapons and come clean on its illegal arsenal. The decision marks the international watchdog’s most punitive response to Syria’s chemical weapons program since reports of chemical attacks first re-surfaced in 2014 and is a necessary step to address Damascus’s blatant violation of international law. Horrific chemical weapons attacks have continued on an irregular basis throughout the country’s ongoing civil war, despite the...

Tensions on Korean Peninsula Rise

July/August 2020
By Julia Masterson

Tensions between North and South Korea have escalated after Pyongyang cut all communications lines and later demolished the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, North Korea, on June 16. South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, who previously oversaw relations between South and North Korea, resigned June 19.

Cho Myoung-gyon (left), then South Korean unification minister,  and his North Korean counterpart Ri Son Gwon (center), attend the opening ceremony of the now-demolished joint liaison office on Sept. 14, 2018 in Kaesong, North Korea. (Photo: Korea Pool/Getty Images)The liaison office was established following the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, which laid out a list of commitments shared by the two Koreas “to boldly approach a new era of national reconciliation, peace and prosperity, and to improve and cultivate inter-Korean relations in a more active manner.” The declaration was concluded at an April summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, following a period of newfound bilateral cooperation.

The office was used to facilitate diplomatic relations between the two Koreas. Weekday inter-Korean phone calls took place twice daily through the office since its establishment in September 2018, until North Korea cut that and all other communications lines with South Korea on June 8.

Two weeks later, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) revealed Pyongyang’s plan to release 12 million propaganda leaflets into South Korea, in response to the scattering of anti-North Korea leaflets at the countries’ border in early June. Seoul came forward to say that move was conducted by several South Korean nongovernmental organizations, but Pyongyang holds South Korean authorities near the demilitarized zone responsible for the act. Propaganda leaflets are a relic of the Cold War and were common across the North-South border in the early 1950s.

The distribution of propaganda leaflets violates the Panmunjom Declaration, under which both countries pledged to cease “all hostile acts” on the Military Demarcation Line that spans their border.

Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, said June 4, “I would like to ask the South Korean authorities if they are ready to take care of the consequences of evil conduct.” She heads the Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea, North Korea’s highest political body. “The South Korean authorities will be forced to pay a dear price if they let this situation go on while making sort of excuses,” she said.

North Korea pledged on June 17 to ready its military for deployment near the demilitarized zone that divides the two Koreas, as well as to the southwestern maritime front, but later reneged on that threat. A KCNA statement June 24 clarified that North Korea’s military leadership “took stock of the prevailing situation and suspended military action plans against the south.”

Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, remarked June 24 that a détente of inter-Korean relations could only be achieved “by efforts and patience of both sides based on mutual respect and trust.” He warned, however, that “nothing will turn out favorable when our suspension becomes reconsideration,” adding that South Korea must “realize that self-control is the key to tiding over the crisis.”

Although the scattering of leaflets across the border exacerbated tensions, North Korea’s heightened hostility toward South Korea appears fueled by Seoul’s long-standing efforts to promote U.S.-North Korean dialogue on denuclearization amid souring inter-Korean relations.

Kwon Jong Gun, the, director-general of U.S. affairs in the North Korean Foreign Ministry, noted on June 13 that South Korean authorities had voiced their support for a resumption of U.S.-North Korean talks. “I still remember that exactly one year ago, we advised them to stop fooling around in such a nasty manner,” Kwon said, adding that “it is not because there is not a mediator that the [North Korean]-U.S. dialogue has gone away and denuclearization been blown off.”

A KCNA commentary on June 19 relayed that North Korea was “fed up with the disgusting acts of the South Korean authorities who accepted the ‘South Korea-U.S. working group’ even before the ink on the north-south agreement got dry,” referring to a body established in the fall of 2018 to strengthen coordination between Seoul and Washington on efforts to achieve North Korean denuclearization. Behind the scenes, the June 19 statement continued, South Korea remains “engrossed in military exercises with the foreign force” and has “connived at the leaflet-scattering by the human scum ten times last year and three times this year, reneging on the promise to halt hostile acts in frontline areas.”

South Korea’s presidential Blue House stated on June 17 it would “not endure” continued condemnation from Pyongyang and added that repeated criticism of Seoul transmitted through the KCNA was counterproductive to efforts to build trust between the two Koreas.

Seoul’s chief nuclear negotiator met with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun on June 18 to “assess the current situation on the Korean peninsula and discuss responses.”


North Korea has demolished a liaison office used to communicate with the South.

U.S. Sets Global Partnership Priorities

July/August 2020
By Kelsey Davenport and Julia Masterson

The United States is prioritizing the security of chemicals to help restore the norm against chemical weapons use during its chair of the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction for 2020, a State Department official told Arms Control Today.

A scientist works at a laboratory of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in Rijswijk, the Netherlands. The OPCW has received support from the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction to help nations prevent their chemical industries and materials from being misused. (Photo: OPCW)Increasing biological security will also be a key area of focus for the Global Partnership, as the coronavirus pandemic has renewed attention on the “catastrophic impact” that a biological weapon could have, the official said in a June 17 interview.

The Global Partnership is a multilateral initiative founded in 2002 to prevent the use and proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons.

Initially focused on disposing of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related facilities in former Soviet countries, the Global Partnership expanded its geographic scope in 2008. The initiative now implements projects worldwide to secure and destroy WMD-related materials and support partnering countries’ efforts to adhere to international nonproliferation instruments. Its work is guided by six core principles, which include managing and destroying WMD materials, implementing effective border and export controls, protecting facilities that house dual-use materials, and implementing international treaties aimed at preventing WMD proliferation.

The Global Partnership is now comprised of 30 member states plus the European Union. The chair of the initiative rotates on the same schedule as the Group of Seven. The United States last chaired the Global Partnership in 2012. (See ACT, January/February 2013.)

Currently, the partnership has four working groups: nuclear and radiological security, biological security, chemical security, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) security. The initiative implemented more than 180 projects valued at more than $534 million in dozens of countries in 2019.

Although there is continuity in the scope of the working groups, the chair of the initiative can determine priorities for each over the course of a year.

The State Department official said the United States is focused on building capacity through donations during its chairmanship and on strengthening dialogue between partnership states to take into account their threat assessments and programming priorities. The official said the United States also wants to emphasize the importance of donor involvement and challenge all partners in the initiative to make substantial contributions. This includes focusing on the Global Partnership’s matchmaking process for implementing projects across the range of WMD threats. Such matchmaking pairs countries in need of assistance with state donor funding and expertise. As chair, the United States will seek to “tap into an evolving set of requirements on one side, and the priority of funding on the other, and try to match the two,” the State Department official explained.

The official said the United States takes seriously the full range of WMD threats, but the repeated use of chemical weapons over the past several years makes restoring the norm against chemical weapons usage a key priority for the initiative, which the United States will continue to emphasize in 2020.

The partnership’s significant efforts to strengthen chemicals security over the past few years has strengthened the regime and contributed to the capacity of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The United States plans to build on this work, and efforts to restore the norm against chemical weapons use will be a “centerpiece” of the Global Partnership’s work in 2020, the official said. The official noted that the working group plans to further develop best practices for chemicals security infrastructure and continue to build a network of experts on which the international community can draw.

The Global Partnership has a number of ongoing projects that support these goals. The United States announced $7 million in funding for the OPCW’s center for chemistry and technology and has funded a project since 2011 to assist states in securing chemicals and assessing the evolving threat of chemical weapons use. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria, and Pakistan are some of the states that have benefited. Germany, in connection with the OPCW, funded workshops on chemicals security from 2009 to 2020 for professionals working in chemicals industries in Africa, Asia, and South America.

In the biological security working group, the official said the United States is concerned that nefarious actors are “paying attention to the consequences of the current pandemic” and may too become interested in biological weapons. The officials said that the pandemic has highlighted gaps in biosecurity and noted that some states have already requested help through the initiative to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Requests for assistance have included training for using personal protective equipment correctly.

The United States is also looking to prioritize building biological incident response capabilities and developing sustainable practices to minimize the risk of a future, intentional biological incident, the official said. The official also noted important progress on linking global health and security efforts in 2019 and said the United States will continue that work.

Past projects funded by the partnership have focused on capacity building to respond to biological threats. Germany funded a project in the Sahel region of Africa from 2016 to 2018 that established a regional response network, and Japan funded work during 2017–2019 to build capacity to diagnose infectious tropical diseases in Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In the nuclear and radiological security working group, the United States is focusing on a range of issues, including enhancing operational resilience; supporting implementation of the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, the parties to which will hold a conference in 2021; and priorities identified in the action plan released during the 2016 nuclear security summit.

The Global Partnership was one of five organizations tasked with continuing the work of the nuclear security summits, which aimed to secure and minimize weapons-usable nuclear materials in civil programs and raise awareness of the threat of nuclear terrorism.

The partnership’s action plan includes supporting efforts to increase cybersecurity and insider threat mitigation and working with the IAEA on nuclear security priorities.

The working group is scheduled to meet in July to discuss how the partnership can build on the IAEA’s February 2020 nuclear security conference.

The partnership has also contributed to continuing efforts to secure nuclear and radiological materials. The United States, for instance, is funding a 10-year effort through 2024 to secure high-threat radioactive sources in Kazakhstan, and Canada is working with nine Latin American countries from 2018 to 2022 to set up nuclear detection architecture to detect material outside of regulatory control.

The CBRN working group is taking a different approach to its mandate in 2020, the official said, noting that efforts will focus on implementing export controls and creating consensus recommendations on areas including addressing sanctions evasion and countering proliferation financing. The official said the working group will continue to advance implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires states to prevent WMD proliferation to nonstate actors and work more closely with the World Customs Organization on its capacity-building programs. The United States also hopes to revitalize matchmaking on CBRN projects and make strategic trade controls a permanent focus of the working group.

The United States is currently engaged in a multiyear program with a number of states in the Asia Pacific and East African regions to devise strategic trade controls and better enforce UN Security Council sanctions targeting North Korean proliferation.

The Global Partnership’s 31 members are primarily located in North America and Europe, but the United States has no plans to expand the initiative’s membership at this time. The State Department official said Washington hopes to strengthen existing members’ participation and to implement new project proposals through the matchmaking process.

The State Department official said that the pandemic has created new challenges for the initiative, but noted that the Global Partnership is taking an innovative approach to virtual meetings that allow the initiative’s threat reduction work to continue. Partners now facilitate virtual engagements, remote training, and distance learning in place of their regular activities.

Holding the rotating chair of the 30-nation group, the United States plans to focus on chemical weapons.

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 | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert

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North Korea announces plans to boost nuclear deterrent

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.


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