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"ACA's journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent."

– Hans Blix
Former IAEA Director-General
Julia Masterson

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

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Volume 11, Issue 9
Updated January 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Breaching the Limit on Uranium Enrichment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Abandoning Limits on Advanced Centrifuges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Resuming Enrichment at Fordow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) Abandoning Operational Restrictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The E3’s Decision to Trigger the Dispute Resolution Mechanism

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

According to the process laid out in the JCPOA,

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

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

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

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

Implications Going Forward

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

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

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

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

 

 

Description: 

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

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North Korea Threatens to Resume Tests


November 2019
By Julia Masterson

North Korea threatened to resume nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing if the United States does not change its approach to negotiations by the end of the year, Pyongyang’s chief negotiator said after October talks with U.S. officials.

Lead North Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Myong Gil (center), shown here in 2007, described the latest round of nuclear talks with the United States as "sickening."  (Photo: Song Kyung-Seok/Pool/Getty Images)U.S. and North Korean negotiators met on Oct. 4–5 in Stockholm for the first time in seven months to resume discussions on denuclearization and peace-building on the Korean peninsula.

The U.S. State Department described the meeting as “good” in an Oct. 5 statement, but North Korea’s lead negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, said the talks were “sickening.” He said the U.S. came with “empty-handed” proposals that “greatly disappointed [the North Korean delegation] and sapped our appetite for negotiations.”

Kim said the U.S. position demonstrated the United States’ unwillingness to “solve the issue” and cautioned of the “terrible incident” that would result from the failure of the United States to adjust its position ahead of any future talks.

“Whether our discontinuation of nuclear and ICBM test fire will resume or not totally depends on the U.S. attitude,” Kim warned.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared a voluntary moratorium on nuclear and long-range ballistic missile testing in April 2018.

But North Korea has consistently expressed frustration with the U.S. proposals to achieve the goals of denuclearization and peace-building on the peninsula agreed to by Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump at their first summit meeting, in Singapore in June 2018.

The North Korean leader warned in April 2019 that the United States must change its negotiating approach to one that is favorable to both sides before the end of the year or the “prospects for solving a problem will be bleak and very dangerous.” (See ACT, May 2019.)

In September, North Korean First Vice Minister Choe Son Hui invited working-level talks, but cautioned that Washington’s proposed “calculation method” would need shared approval by Pyongyang before future dialogue on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, October 2019.)

Ahead of the Oct. 4–5 meeting, the Trump administration signaled that it was considering a new approach to negotiations.

Trump described the U.S. approach to the negotiations in similar terms, saying on Sept. 14 that “a new method would be very good.”

On Sept. 20, responding to Washington’s apparent shift in negotiating posture, lead negotiator Kim voiced optimism that the United States could propose the “right calculation method” and praised Trump for taking a more flexible approach.

In keeping with North Korea’s insistence on a step-by-step approach, Kim said that North Korea and the United States should “solve feasible matters first, one by one in stages, while building confidence in each other.” He added that a new method of diplomacy is the “best option.”

The State Department announced in an Oct. 5 press release that Washington offered proposals that would allow for the United States and North Korea to make progress toward achieving goals set at the 2018 Singapore summit.

Vox reported on Oct. 2 that the U.S. delegation would propose waiving UN sectoral sanctions on textile and coal exports for three years in exchange for North Korea’s verifiable closing of the Yongbyon nuclear facility and one other measure, likely the cessation of uranium enrichment.

It is not clear whether this proposal was formally discussed in Stockholm, but it would represent a shift from the Trump administration’s prior position that sanctions relief would not be granted until denuclearization was complete.

U.S. negotiators accepted a Swedish offer to continue talks in two weeks, but North Korea appeared to reject the proposed time frame for further discussions. “The U.S. has made almost no method of calculation for around 100 days since the [U.S.-North Korea] meeting in Panmunjom, do you think they can make it within two weeks?” Kim asked on Oct. 6.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that if the United States does not change its negotiation stance, “the dealings between the DPRK and the U.S. might immediately come to an end.”

State-run newspapers showed pictures on Oct. 16 of the North Korean leader riding a white horse to the top of Mount Paektu, a sacred site, and emphasized the “mighty power and status” of North Korea. The statement said that “there will be a great operation to strike the world with wonder again,” and accompanying editorials emphasized North Korea’s self-reliance and noted that visits to Mount Paektu always preceded new strategic thinking.

 

North Korea Tests New SLBM

North Korea flight-tested a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on Oct. 2, illustrating Pyongyang’s continued interest in pursuing a sea-based nuclear deterrent.

North Korea conducts a test launch of a submerged missile in 2016, a precursor to this year's flight test on Oct. 2.  (Photo: KCNA)The SLBM, known as the Pukguksong-3, is a two-stage, solid-fueled system and was likely launched from a submerged barge off the east coast of North Korea in Yonghung Bay.

A statement from North Korea’s Academy of Defense Science, as reported by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), described the test as a success and said it “scientifically and technically confirmed” the missile’s key features. The Oct. 3 statement said the launch has “great significance” and bolsters North Korea’s “military muscle for self-defense.”

The missile was launched on a lofted trajectory and splashed down in Japan’s economic exclusion zone. The statement said the test was designed to have “no adverse impact” on the security of other states.

According to David Wright, a missile expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Pukguksong-3 would have a range of about 1,900 kilometers if flown on a standard trajectory. This range falls below the voluntary moratorium on long-range ballistic missile launches announced by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in April 2018, but the missile launch still violates UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting missile activities. (See ACT, May 2019.)

The U.S. State Department responded to the test by urging North Korea to refrain from provocations, saying in an Oct. 2 statement that the Trump administration was still committed to negotiations on denuclearization and peace-building in the region.

European members of the UN Security Council described the test as a “clear violation” of council resolutions in an Oct. 8 statement and said it was a provocation that undermines regional security.

North Korea last tested an SLBM, the Pukguksong-1, in 2016. That missile has an estimated range of 1,200 kilometers. Three of the six tests six tests of the Pukgukson-1 appear to have been successful. Experts believe that the sole test conducted from a ballistic missile submarine damaged the vessel.

North Korea is continuing construction on a new Sinpo-class ballistic missile submarine at its Sinpo shipyard. According to satellite imagery examined by the independent research organization 38 North in September, Pyongyang may be preparing to test the ejection system for missile launches.

The Sinpo-class submarine is believed to be more advanced than North Korea’s ballistic missile-capable Gorae-class submarine, which was put on display in 2015 but is not believed to be operational.—KELSEY DAVENPORT
 

Washington and Pyongyang made little progress at latest round of talks.

China Shows Off New Missiles


November 2019
By Julia Masterson

China displayed new and long-range missiles in an October military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the People's Republic of China. The parade featured new unmanned aerial vehicles, advanced hypersonic missiles, and upgrades to missiles previously deployed by the People’s Liberation Army.

Chinese DF-17 hypersonic missiles are displayed in an Oct. 1 parade in Beijing.  (Photo: Sheng Jiapeng/China News Service/VCG/Getty Images)Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated at the UN General Assembly that “China has no intention of playing the ‘Game of Thrones’ on the world stage,” asserting China’s interest in global cooperation and in maintaining peaceful relations with the United States.

Nevertheless, just a week after his remarks, China paraded updated military hardware through Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Among the weapons exhibited in the parade were the Dongfeng-41 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a new hypersonic weapon, the Dongfeng-17.

Efforts to develop the Dongfeng-41 began in the late 1980s, and the current version is reportedly a solid-fueled ICBM equipped with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles making it capable of delivering several nuclear warheads. The missile is believed to have a range of 15,000 kilometers, enabling it to reach targets in the continental United States in approximately 30 minutes. A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate in 1999 listed the Dongfeng-41, then under development, as a missile designed to target the United States. (See ACT, September/October 1999.)

The Dongfeng-17 has a comparatively shorter range, estimated at just more than 2,500 kilometers, and is equipped to carry a conventional warhead on a hypersonic glide vehicle. According to some independent weapons analysts, the Dongfeng-17 does not dramatically strengthen the conventional threat that China poses to U.S. or allied forces in the region.

James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said that China already possesses a “formidable arsenal of existing weapons” capable of flying a similar range. Other experts noted that because the Dongfeng-17 is more maneuverable, it will be more capable of evading U.S. missile interceptors designed to protect U.S. command centers and airfields in East Asia. The Dongfeng-17’s inaugural flight test was in November 2017, and further testing will be necessary before the weapon can be operationally deployed.

Officials parade a new long-range, nuclear-armed missile.

U.S. Alleges New Syrian Chlorine Attack


U.S. officials have confirmed the United States believes that Syria once again has used chlorine-based weapons, this time in a May 2019 strike in Syria’s Latakia Province. According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. intelligence assessment indicates that the May 19 attack was conducted by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and killed at least four people.

A Syrian girl holds an oxygen mask over the face of an infant at a makeshift hospital following a reported gas attack in Douma on the outskirts of the capital Damascus in 2018.  (Photo: Hasan Mohamed/AFP/Getty Images)The 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to which Syria acceded in 2013, prohibits the production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of chemical weapons. A joint investigative mechanism led by the treaty’s Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations has verified the sporadic but regular use of chemical weapons and of other toxic chemicals, including chlorine, in Syria since 2014.

Although the OPCW defines chemical weapons as “any chemical intended for chemical weapons purposes” and includes chlorine on a list of chemical choking agents, chlorine gas is a dual-use chemical and not a scheduled agent explicitly banned by the CWC. Consequently, the Syrian government’s supplies of chlorine were not part of the OPCW-led removal and destruction of Syria’s sarin and mustard arsenal and precursor chemicals, executed shortly after Syria’s accession to the CWC. (See ACT, December 2014.)—JULIA MASTERSON

U.S. Alleges New Syrian Chlorine Attack

North Korea Rejects U.S. Proposal

North Korea Rejects U.S. Proposal U.S. and North Korean negotiators met for the first time in seven months Oct. 4-5 to continue talks on denuclearization and peacebuilding on the Korean peninsula, but the prospects for further negotiations remain unclear as Pyongyang continues to reiterate that the Trump administration must change its position for the process to continue. The State Department characterized the talks in Stockholm as “good” and said the U.S. negotiating team brought new proposals to the table to address all of the goals laid out in the June 2018 Singapore summit declaration ...

Iran Announces Third Nuclear Breach


October 2019
By Julia Masterson

Iran will no longer adhere to limits on its nuclear research and development activities, as it once agreed in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on Sept. 4. Just three days later, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said that technicians had begun introducing uranium hexafluoride to cascades of 20 IR-4 and 20 IR-6 centrifuges, exceeding the number of machines permitted in a cascade by the R&D terms of the nuclear agreement.

French President Emmanuel Macron, shown in September, proposed establishing a $15 billion line of credit to incentivize Iran's compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. (Photo: Philippe Wojazer/AFP/Getty Images)If confirmed, the move would constitute Iran’s third breach of the six-party nuclear deal in retaliation to the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement in May 2018 and Washington’s reimposition of U.S. sanctions that had been lifted. Iran’s latest step away from the nuclear accord follows its May and July 2019 decisions to enrich and accumulate uranium beyond the thresholds designated by the JCPOA. According to the agreement, Iran can store no more than 300 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride enriched up to 3.67 percent uranium-235, and it may not enrich uranium to levels higher than that for 15 years after the implementation day.

The nuclear accord limits Iran to operating 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges and permits R&D work on a very limited number of IR-4, -5, -6, and -8 centrifuges, as long as the work does not result in an accumulation of enriched uranium.

Tehran’s September decision to breach the agreement’s centrifuge R&D limits poses risks that Iran could increase the output of its centrifuges, should it begin to operate and withdraw enriched uranium from the more advanced designs.

The latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report confirmed that Iran has installed or is in the process of installing 22 IR-4 centrifuges, one IR-5 centrifuge, and 33 IR-6 modeled centrifuges. Although prepared for testing, the IAEA indicated that as of Sept. 8, no uranium hexafluoride had been introduced into these centrifuges.

Until now, Iran had been complying with the R&D restrictions. A May 2019 IAEA report said that “no enriched uranium has been accumulated through enrichment R&D activities, and Iran’s enrichment R&D with and without uranium has been conducted using centrifuges specified in the JCPOA.” Should Iran begin to enrich and accumulate uranium using advanced centrifuge models or test the centrifuges installed at the Natanz pilot fuel-enrichment plant, then Iran’s actions would signify a further breach of the nuclear accord.

The September IAEA report also verified that Iran has taken steps toward configuring cascades, or chains of centrifuges used to optimize enriched uranium output, at the Natanz plant. The report cited a Sept. 8 letter from Tehran to the agency expressing a plan to install two cascades: one of 164 IR-4 centrifuges and one of 164 IR-2m centrifuges. Both cascades were under development prior to the JCPOA’s implementation, but Iran was obligated to remove them from the Natanz plant under the terms of the 2015 agreement.

Iran’s latest potential breach of the JCPOA comes one month after its Aug. 5 plea to European leaders to do more to compensate the Iranian government for assets lost through the imposition of U.S. sanctions. (See ACT, September 2019.) In May the Trump administration announced it would not renew the sanctions waivers previously granted to countries importing Iranian oil in a strengthened effort to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear and missile provocations and to disengage from regional conflicts.

At the Group of Seven summit in France in August, French President Emmanuel Macron offered a proposal to extend Iran a $15 billion line of credit guaranteed by future Iranian oil sales in return for Iran’s return to compliance with the JCPOA and commitment to negotiations on regional security and the future of Iran’s nuclear program.

On Sept. 3, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said that talks on the credit arrangement were underway but U.S. approval would be crucial. “All this (pre)supposes that President [Donald] Trump issues waivers,” he told reporters.

Earlier this year, the Europeans established INSTEX, a state-owned trade intermediary to facilitate trade in nonsanctioned goods with Iran. When the U.S. oil sanctions waivers were eliminated in May 2019, oil imports were halted. Only China and Syria continue to buy Iranian oil, albeit at a lessened rate, in defiance of U.S. sanctions.

Without the reissuance of U.S. sanctions waivers, France and other countries are unlikely to move forward due to the cost of the U.S. Treasury Department sanctions on the institutions and businesses involved in the French plan.

Iran has begun to test advanced centrifuges as it furthers its noncompliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. 

India Boosts Range of BrahMos Cruise Missile


The BrahMos cruise missile, produced by an Indian-Russian venture, is displayed in St. Petersburg in 2017.  (Photo: Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)India has increased the range of its BrahMos supersonic cruise missile to 500 kilometers after successful summer testing, an industry official told The Economic Times. The technological development followed earlier reports that New Delhi may soon begin exporting the missile to the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The conventionally armed BrahMos missile is reported to be world’s fastest cruise missile, capable of flying at nearly three times the speed of sound. It is manufactured in India by BrahMos Aerospace, a joint Indian-Russian enterprise.

The new capability was made possible by India’s membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), said Sudhir Kumar Mishra, the firm’s chief executive officer. Before joining in 2016, India was prevented from receiving technology from MTCR members, such as Russia, for missiles capable of flying more than 300 kilometers or carrying payloads heavier than 500 kilograms.

MTCR limitations will need to be considered as India decides which versions of the BrahMos to export.

Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia have expressed interest in the BrahMos, according to Sputnik News, and other customers friendly to India and Russia may also be interested.—JULIA MASTERSON

India Boosts Range of BrahMos Cruise Missile

India Considers No-First-Use Changes

 

India may be considering repudiating its long-standing no-first-use nuclear doctrine, according to an Aug. 16 tweet by Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh. “India has strictly adhered to this doctrine,” Singh wrote, but “what happens in the future depends on the circumstances.”

Like China, India currently vows to use nuclear weapons only in retaliation for a first-strike attack. If there is a change, it would not be the first time that India has modified its nuclear posture. India adopted a no-first-use policy in 1998 but stipulated that the promise extended only to states that did not have nuclear weapons and were not aligned with a nuclear-armed state (See ACT, July/August 1999). In 2003, India formally published its nuclear command structure and reaffirmed its no-first-use policy, but added that a chemical or biological attack could warrant a retaliatory nuclear response, further conditioning the scope of its 1998 pledge. (See ACT, January/February 2003.)

The incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised in 2014 to amend India’s nuclear doctrine, and specifically to revisit the no-first-use issue. (See ACT, May 2015.) The same promise was notably absent from the BJP 2019 manifesto, but the recent comments come from the highest-ranking official to have hinted at additional adjustments to New Delhi’s nuclear use policy.—JULIA MASTERSON

India Considers No-First-Use Changes

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