"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, October 10

Arms Control NOW

Negotiators for the P5+1 and Iran will return to the negotiating table in Vienna next week, as talks on a comprehensive nuclear agreement are set to resume Oct. 14-15. A meeting between lead P5+1 negotiator Catherine Ashton and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is already on the books, along with a trilateral meeting that will include U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The U.S. negotiating team will also be in Vienna for the talks and a bilateral meeting with Iran on Oct. 14.

A spokeswoman for the Iranian foreign ministry said a full round of talks between the P5+1 could take place late next week after the trilateral meeting.

This round of talks follows ten days of meetings in New York last month. Iranian and P5+1 officials said little progress was made during the talks, but both sides remain committed to reaching a deal ahead of the Nov. 24 deadline.

--KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

The PMDs Issue: What is Possible and When

A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flew to Tehran for two days of talks, Oct. 7-8, to discuss Iranian compliance with the agency's investigation into its unresolved questions about Iran's nuclear program.

Iran missed an Aug. 25 deadline for turning over to the agency information related to two actions that could be relevant to nuclear weapons development. These so-called activities with "possible military dimensions" (PMDs) include alleged work on the initiation of high explosives and studies on neutron transport, related modeling and calculation, and their application to compressed materials.

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi said on Oct. 8 that the talks were constructive and that Iran and the agency discussed a path forward for these two outstanding issues. Najafi did not mention additional actions, which Iran said last month it would suggest once the remaining two PMD issues were resolved. An IAEA press release, on Oct. 9 said that Iran did not propose any new measures and that the parties would meet again "at a date to be announced."

Iran continues to deny that it conducted activities related to nuclear weapons development and disputes the validity of the evidence, some of which was provided to the IAEA by member states.

The IAEA laid out its allegations regarding the PMDs in an annex to its November 2011 quarterly report to the agency's board of governors. The PMDs are part of a larger set of concerns that the IAEA has about Iran's nuclear program. Other issues include information and access that will allow for the IAEA to certify the completeness and clarity of Iran's nuclear declaration.

Iran and the IAEA agreed on a framework for resolving all of these issues last November. Since then, Iran has completed 16 actions.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano told press after an August visit to Tehran that the agency would evaluate all of the PMD issues as an entire system before issuing an assessment.

Some policymakers are arguing that a comprehensive nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 cannot be completed until the IAEA is finished with its investigation. In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, 354 members of Congress said that transparency on the PMD actions are necessary in order to establish a meaningful monitoring and verification system in a comprehensive deal.

Resolving the PMD issue is important but is not a prerequisite for a comprehensive nuclear agreement. And, as intelligence expert Paul Pillar notes, if some members of are looking for Iran's leaders to suddenly issue a mea culpa, that is an unrealistic expectation.

In reality, it is more likely that the IAEA will be able to get the information it needs to determine what happened in the past and whether any PMDs activities continue today. Why? Under a comprehensive nuclear deal, it is likely that sanctions relief that is important to Iran will be tied to the satisfactory conclusion of the IAEA probe.

In addition, because the IAEA needs time to gather and review information to make a determination about the nature of Iran program, it is unrealistic to believe it could conclude its investigation even with full Iranian cooperation.

Finally, a comprehensive, long-term P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal will have the additional, stringent, and intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms necessary to provide the agency access to all of Iran's nuclear sites on short notice. Such monitoring is crucial to providing the IAEA and the international community with the tools to quickly detect and disrupt any attempt to pursue nuclear weapons, be it through a covert program or by using declared nuclear facilities.

What's Additional about the Additional Protocol?

In the November 2013 interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1, the parties agreed that Iran would implement and ratify the Additional Protocol as part of a comprehensive agreement. But what will it actually do?

The Additional Protocol is a legal document granting the IAEA inspection authority beyond what is permitted by a safeguards agreement. Additional Protocols are voluntary agreements negotiated on a state-by-state basis with the IAEA. A principal aim is to enable the IAEA inspectorate to provide assurance that there are no undeclared activities and all declared nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes.

Under the Additional Protocol, the IAEA is granted expanded rights of access to information and sites. States must provide information about, and IAEA inspector access to, all parts of a State's nuclear fuel cycle - including uranium mines, fuel fabrication and enrichment plants, and nuclear waste sites - as well as to any other location with nuclear material or where suspected nuclear activities may have taken place. This includes managed access to military sites if the IAEA has concerns that nuclear activities may have taken place on those premises.

Additional Protocols typically also include provisions granting multiple entry visas to inspectors, access to research and development activities, information on the manufacture and export of sensitive nuclear related technologies and allow for environmental samples.

In the case of Iran, this would give the agency regular access to sites that are not part of the IAEA's safeguards agreement with Iran. This would include access to Iran's uranium mine, centrifuge production workshops, the heavy-water production plant at Arak, and sites like Parchin, where the IAEA has evidence that activities related to nuclear weapons development may have taken place.

When in place, the Additional Protocol also substantially expands the IAEA's ability to check for clandestine, undeclared, nuclear facilities by providing the agency with authority to visit any facility, declared or not, to investigate questions about or inconsistencies in a state's nuclear declarations.

The IAEA will also be able to visit any site on very short notice. These monitoring and verification measures will give the agency a more complete picture of Iran's nuclear activities and allow for early detection of deviations from peaceful activities. Early notification would give the international community time to respond to any dash Iran might make toward nuclear weapons.

Iran's Additional Protocol with the IAEA has already been negotiated and was signed by Iran in 2003.

Between 2003 and 2006 Iran voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol, but never ratified the document. In 2006, Iran announced that it would no longer implement the provisions of the agreement.

Iran will not resume implementation of all aspects of the Additional Protocol, let alone ratify it, unless there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

Looking Ahead ...

Oct. 14-15 - Zarif, Ashton and Kerry meet in Vienna

Oct. 20 - "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle," Arms Control Association Annual Meeting with Robert Einhorn, Brookings Institution; Elizabeth Rosenberg, Center for a New American Security; and Alireza Nader, RAND Corporation RSVP today! 

Nov. 17-21 - IAEA Board of Governors Quarterly Meeting

Nov. 24 - Deadline for negotiating a comprehensive nuclear agreeme

By the research staff of the Arms Control Association. To get this P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert delivered to your inbox, sign-up now. Past issues of these alerts are archived online.